House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries on Sunday declined to criticize President Joe Biden’s decision to allow Congress to potentially nix reforms to the criminal code of Washington, DC, even as many in the party are breaking with the White House.
A Senate vote to scrap the DC law is expected this week. It passed last month in the Republican-controlled House with the backing of 31 Democrats.
Asked by CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union” if Biden had pulled the rug out from under House Democrats with his announcement, Jeffries, who voted against the GOP bill, said, “Not at all.”
“Depending on what the Senate does, the president will have to respond one way or another. I haven’t had an opportunity to talk to the White House yet about the president’s views. So I’m not going to characterize his position one way or the other until we’ve had a chance to talk about that issue,” the New York Democrat said.
Many Democrats, including Jeffries, oppose overriding the law on principle, arguing that local officials should make their own laws free of congressional interference.
“In terms of my particular reasons for voting the way that I did, one, I believe that local government should have control over local matters. And that’s a principle that I’ve supported from the moment that I arrived in Washington, DC. It’s one of the reasons why I believe in DC statehood,” Jeffries told Bash.
Biden’s announcement that he would sign the GOP-led legislation if passed reflects a rising desire among more moderate Democratic lawmakers to avoid being seen as soft on crime. But the move has angered many progressives and DC residents, who say the president is letting Congress step on the ability of Washington’s citizens to govern themselves.
The White House hasn’t said whether the president had spoken to DC’s Democratic mayor, Muriel Bowser, before he talked to Senate Democrats about his decision not to veto the Republican legislation.
Bowser opposed the DC criminal code overhaul, but the DC Council overrode her veto of the proposal earlier this year.
Nevertheless, in an interview Friday with local radio station WAMU, Bowser said that what the district is “dealing with is the effects of limited home rule, and we know that our legislative process is one that doesn’t end with my signature or veto.”
She added that “until we are the 51st state, we live with that indignity” and that it is “infuriating” for the district to be in that position.