By Katharine Jackson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Democratic-controlled Washington city council on Monday withdrew a bill aimed at overhauling the city’s criminal code, which Congress had been set to overturn in a move that President Joe Biden had vowed not to block.
“The bill has been pulled back from Congress,” council chair Phil Mendelson said at a news conference, adding that he had sent a letter to the U.S. Senate advising that the bill had been withdrawn.
The Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives had passed a measure to overturn the bill last week and the Senate had been set to do the same this week.
Despite the city’s withdrawal, top Democratic and Republican Senate aides said the vote on the resolution would still take place.
The bill proposes changes to Washington’s criminal code, including alterations to how certain crimes are defined and sentencing guidelines.
The city has faced criticism after lowering penalties for burglary, carjacking and other criminal activity. Police statistics show that crime in the city has broadly dropped since 2018, but a spike in carjacking and a recent assault on a member of Congress have heightened concerns about safety.
Biden said last week he would not veto Congress’ move if the Senate approved overturning the city bill.
“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 said on Twitter after a meeting with Senate Democrats. “If the Senate votes to overturn what D.C. Council did, I’ll sign it.”
Congressional oversight of Washington, D.C., is written in to the U.S. Constitution, and the city’s 700,000 residents do not have voting representation in Congress.
Tensions often flare between Republican lawmakers and the heavily Democratic city.
Mendelson said he objected to Washington’s government being used by Congress as a tool for national politics.
“That is the history of the District of Columbia, is two centuries of the district being used for national purposes, which … is very unfair and offensive.”
(Reporting by Katharine Jackson in Washington; Editing by Matthew Lewis)