Opinion: Republicans win early skirmish in Congress on crime

Democrats have long had a fraught relationship with the politics of crime, and that was on full display this week as the Senate voted to repeal a new local D.C. crime law.

Faced with Republican attacks against the plan — which reduced penalties for some major crimes — President Biden stunned D.C. officials this month by telling senators that he would sign the GOP repeal.

City leaders then watched helplessly as Senate Democrats stampeded in favor of the measure, the first time since 1990 that Congress had stepped in to overturn a law approved by the city.

“I just don’t support the changing, lowering penalties for carjacking and offenses like that,” said U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa.

The outcome was a big win for U.S. Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Athens, a leading GOP critic of city leaders in Washington, D.C.

“Combating crime is not a conservative or liberal objective — but a commonsense one,” said Clyde, who has also ruffled feathers in the city by calling for an end to local ‘home rule’ for the District of Columbia.

The final Senate vote came five months to the day after the 2022 midterm elections, where the GOP used complaints about rising crime to win a series of victories in New York, providing crucial seats for Republicans to take control of the U.S. House.

Not only has crime been a powerful election tool for Republicans, but it often leaves Democrats divided about their party’s best response.

More liberal Democrats routinely claim the focus on crime is nothing more than a cynical election argument — with hints of race mixed in, while others caution that the party is wrong to brush off broader public safety concerns.

This story also has an important second angle, in that President Biden and Democratic senators suddenly broke with their D.C. allies about deferring to local government decisions.

Usually, Democrats would support the unfettered right to ‘Home Rule’ in the District of Columbia, but they abandoned that in order to avoid a highly political veto fight and to avoid being branded ‘soft on crime.’

Biden’s move completely blindsided D.C. leaders, who thought they had a staunch ally in the White House.

“Today has been a sad day for D.C. home rule and D.C. residents’ right to self-governance,” said the city’s Delegate in Congress, Eleanor Holmes Norton.

It was a second significant victory for Clyde and other Republicans. Not only did they repeal the D.C. crime measure, but they also drove a wedge between city officials and Democrats on home rule.

Chalk one up for the GOP. Elections have consequences.

Jamie Dupree has covered national politics and Congress from Washington, D.C. since the Reagan administration. His column appears weekly in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. For more, check out his Capitol Hill newsletter at http://jamiedupree.substack.com