The White House struggled to defend President Joe Biden’s decision to support a bill blocking Washington D.C. from overhauling its criminal code and voting rights laws.
Biden announced Thursday that he would sign a Republican bill blocking D.C. from passing two bills reforming the criminal code and allowing non-citizens to vote in local elections. Congressional Democrats were outraged by the move. White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre struggled to respond to the criticisms at Friday’s press briefing.
“[T]he President has been very clear we need to do more to reduce crime, to make communities safer, to save lives,” Jean-Pierre said. “[T]he way that we see this bill, it doesn’t actually reform policing practices … like the ones the president has put forward at the federal level [via Executive Order].” Jean-Pierre repeatedly touted Biden’s support for D.C. statehood and his own crime and policing policies.
The administration had previously opposed the House bill in a Statement of Administration Policy (SAP), claiming that it deprived the city of self-governance. Despite this opposition, Jean-Pierre insisted on Thursday that Biden never took a position on whether or not he would sign the bill. “[Biden] never made that clear in that SAP,” she said. “[W]e never said anything at this time. Now we’re communicating very clearly. Now that we know that this legislation is going to be at the president’s desk, we’re making very clear and communicating where the president is on this legislation.”
“There was no veto threat in the SAP,” she added later. “There really wasn’t. We … opposed it, but there was no veto threat.”
Jean-Pierre spent much of the briefing defending Biden’s decision because Democrats spent Thursday blasting his announcement that he would sign the bill.
“I’m disappointed,” Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) told POLITICO Thursday. “First of all, I hope the Senate would not pass it. But I think it’s pretty clear they will. And to me, the Congress should not substitute its judgment for the elected representatives of the people of the District of Columbia.”
“This ain’t it,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) tweeted. “DC has a right to govern itself, like any other state or municipality. If the President supports DC statehood, he should govern like it. Plenty of places pass laws the President may disagree with. He should respect the people’s gov of DC just as he does elsewhere.”
One member of Congress did not mince words. “The White House f***** this up royally,” the member told The Hill via text message, citing the SAP. “So a lot of us who are allies voted no in order to support what the White House wanted. And now we are being hung out to dry. F****** AMATEUR HOUR. HEADS SHOULD ROLL OVER AT THE WHITE HOUSE OVER THIS.”
Biden said he would sign the Republican bills on Thursday. “I support D.C. Statehood and home-rule — but I don’t support some of the changes D.C. Council put forward over the Mayor’s objections — such as lowering penalties for carjackings,” Biden tweeted from the official Presidential Twitter account. “If the Senate votes to overturn what D.C. Council did — I’ll sign it.”
The Senate is expected to vote on the bills as soon as next week. It already has the support of two Democrats, meaning it will likely head to the president’s desk afterwards.