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D.C. Council chair says he's withdrawing the crime bill Congress plans to overturn

The Senate will vote on the Republican-backed bill to block changes to Washington's crime laws despite the official's withdrawal, aides said. The president has said he will sign it.
D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson at the Old Council Chambers in Washington on April 5, 2021.
D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson in 2021.Lenin Nolly / Sipa USA via AP file

Washington, D.C., Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said Monday he had sent a letter to the Senate to withdraw changes to the city's crime law before a vote on a Republican-backed bill designed to undo them.

Mendelson is withdrawing after President Joe Biden told Senate Democrats at a closed-door lunch meeting last week that he won’t veto the measure and that he will allow Congress to overrule the D.C. Council, angering advocates for the city's autonomy.

Mendelson said at a news conference Monday that he noted in the “very brief” letter that his withdrawal means the crime bill is “no longer properly before the Congress," saying the Home Rule Act, which governs Washington, requires that local legislation be "transmitted to both houses.”

"I will say I don’t know that that will stop the Senate Republicans, but our position is that the bill is not before Congress any longer,” he added.

The Senate will still vote on whether to overturn the bill, three Senate leadership aides said.

"Not only does the statute not allow" the council to withdraw a bill it has already transmitted to Congress, one of the aides said, "but at this point, the Senate Republican privileged motion will be acting on the House disapproval resolution, rather than the D.C. Council’s transmission to the Senate. We still expect the vote to occur."

A White House official said in a statement to NBC News that Biden “expressed concerns with a number of provisions in the D.C. crime bill” but declined to comment on the D.C. Council’s “ongoing process.”

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Biden still believes Washington should gain statehood.

"It doesn't change that he encourages Congress to pass a bill that makes D.C. a state and he will sign it," Jean-Pierre said at a briefing Monday.

The House last month passed the resolution, which would block the revisions to the city’s criminal code. The Senate is expected to pass it this week.

The D.C. Council unanimously passed a sweeping overhaul of the city’s criminal code late last year, NBC Washington reported. The bill would have broadly changed how Washington approaches crime, including eliminating most mandatory minimum sentences and reducing mandatory maximum penalties.

Although Biden has said he opposes the House resolution to overrule the D.C. Council, he took issue with some of the changes it made to the city's criminal code.

“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 last week. “If the Senate votes to overturn what D.C. Council did — I’ll sign it.”

Mayor Muriel Bowser also opposed the changes passed by the D.C. Council and vetoed them. Her veto was overridden, sending the bill to Congress.

Still, she has demanded that Congress not meddle in the district’s sovereignty.

Mendelson suggested Monday that the council could make changes and send the bill back to Congress later while maintaining that, in his view, the bill is no longer before the Senate.

“I am quite clear in my letter that pulling it back means that the clock stops and it would have to be re-transmitted to both houses and that this will enable the council to work on the measure in light of congressional comments and to re-transmit it later,” he said.