U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) became the first Democrat to openly express support for a Republican-led effort to rescind a contentious Washington, D.C., crime law—a code that had been vetoed by District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser in a move subsequently overruled by D.C.’s City Council.
The Revised Criminal Code Act of 2022 (RCCA), which would go into effect in 2025, would overhaul the District’s criminal statute for the first time since 1901, including reducing the maximum penalties for burglary, carjacking, and robbery.
Manchin said he does not want to lower penalties for criminals but, instead, wants those people to face jail time.
“I don’t support it. I mean, I want to put people away, I don’t want to let them out,” Manchin told CNN on Monday when asked about his support for rescinding the RCCA. “I haven’t been briefed on it, but what I know about it, I would vote to rescind it,” he said.
Crime in Washington has been going up, as Metropolitan Police Department records from Jan. 1 through Feb. 28 show 5,151 crimes, including large increases in motor vehicle theft and arson, marking a 25 percent increase in crime overall from the same period in 2022.
While no other Democrat senator has publicly said they will join Manchin, many Democrats in the House voted with the GOP just days after Democrat Rep. Angie Craig (D-Minn.) was allegedly assaulted at her Capitol Hill apartment building.
The House voted 250–173 to pass a disapproval resolution against the rewrite of D.C.’s criminal code. Now, with Manchin’s support, Republican senators will have the votes they need to rescind the soft-on-crime RCCA.
The effort to rescind the RCCA will now move to the Senate for a vote. The chief patron of the U.S. Senate resolution to overturn the RCCA, Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.), called the D.C. law irresponsible.
“Violent crime has become an epidemic in this country, and the District of Columbia is no exception to this epidemic. We’re seeing a crime wave here, and Americans from across the country come to visit the District of Columbia. This is a federal district,” Hagerty said in a Jan. 14 statement. Hagerty added that his Constituents visit their representatives in Congress and “view the capital of their nation as a place that should be sacrosanct and a place that should be safe.”
On Jan. 4, Mayor Bowser vetoed the RCCA proposal. On Jan. 17, however, the city council overrode the mayor’s veto (1–21) to restructure the way the city handles crimes including robbery, carjacking, and home-invasion burglary.
Hagerty agreed with Bowser’s veto.
“As Mayor Bowser put it in vetoing the bill, ‘This bill does not make us safer.’ I couldn’t agree more. That’s why I’m leading the Senate resolution to block this bill under the D.C. Home Rule Act,” said Hagerty.
Many opponents to the movement to rescind, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), say the resolution to overturn the law will undermine D.C. residents’ ability to make their own laws through their elected officials.
Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) used Twitter to label Hagerty’s move “undemocratic, paternalistic disapproval.”
The D.C. Council also defended their decision to veto Bowser, writing a letter to Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jefferies (D-N.Y.), stating, “The District of Columbia has the right to self-govern as granted to us under the Home Rule Act.”
“Any changes or amendments to the District’s local laws should be done by the elected representatives of the District of Columbia. As those representatives, we alone are accountable to the voters of the District of Columbia,” the letter continued, adding: “Just as Congress does not interfere in the local matters of other states, we compel you not to interfere in our matters.”
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) shared her view of overturning the code.
“The D.C. City Council has the right to determine its policies for D.C. residents. And if any member of this body does not like that, they can feel free to change their registration, resign their post and run for D.C. City Council,” Ocasio-Cortez said during a House debate in January.
President Joe Biden has said he does not support the resolution to rescind the D.C. law.