Washington — President Biden told Senate Democrats he would not veto a Republican-backed resolution that would block amendments to Washington, DC’s criminal code should they reach his desk, several senators said after a lunch with the president on Thursday behind closed doors.
The GOP-controlled House of Representatives passed a resolution last month to block a bill passed by the DC City Council that would revise the district’s criminal code. Thirty-one House Democrats joined all House Republicans in passing the resolution in the lower chamber. The Senate has yet to pick up the measure, but several Democratic senators have said they will
The Changes to the DC Criminal Code, which would not come into force until 2025, would lower maximum sentences for some crimes, such as carjacking, while increasing penalties for others and removing many mandatory minimum sentences. Some supporters of the changes point out that maximum penalties are often not implemented. Mayor Muriel Bowser vetoed the penal code amendments, but the city council overrode her veto.
The struggle over the changes has become a focal point in a broader dispute over the District of Columbia’s ability to govern itself. The constitution gives Congress authority over all matters in the capital, with the legislature delegating some powers to the city’s elected officials.
However, the House and Senate can overrule legislation passed by the DC City Council within a specific review period. Democratic lawmakers opposing the rejection resolution have argued that Congress should not overrule the will of the district’s elected officials, citing the episode as an argument for granting DC statehood.
Mr. Biden ignored questions about the bill after his meeting with Democrats. A source in the room said the president raised the matter unsolicited.
The Congressional Black Caucus held a press conference amid the news of Mr. Biden’s position on the Penal Code resolution. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, the non-voting member of Congress representing the district, was caught off guard.
“This is new to me,” she said. “I am very disappointed.”
The fate of the congressional resolution is unclear in the Senate, which Democrats control by a slim 51-49. The Senate is currently missing two senators, Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Sen. John Fetterman, due to ill health. A simple majority is required to pass a rejection resolution, and at least two Democrats, Sens. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, have announced they would vote to block the DC bill.
Mr. Biden was behind closed doors with Senate Democrats for about an hour on Thursday afternoon. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said they had a “great meeting.”
When asked by reporters when he would announce his re-election, Mr. Biden replied, “When I announce it.”
Zak Hudak contributed to the coverage.