Former House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., offered a rare criticism of President Biden on Friday, complaining that he didn’t give Democrats a “heads up” before announcing he would sign legislation overturning Washington, D.C.’s revised criminal code — which critics have called soft on crime.
“If he was going to do it, I wish he would’ve told us first, because this was a hard vote for the House members,” Pelosi said at a University of Chicago event, where she was asked if she agreed with the president’s position. “And it’s a hard vote for the Senate members. And the mayor of District of Columbia even differed from the legislators who passed it, so it wasn’t that clear.”
“I’m a big supporter of statehood for the District of Columbia. I voted with the District of Columbia,” Pelosi added. “I understand why some people voted against. But if the president’s going to do it, hey, could you give us a heads up too in the House?”
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Last November, the Washington D.C. council voted unanimously to pass the Revised Criminal Code Act, which includes reduced maximum sentences, the elimination of nearly all mandatory minimum sentences and expanded rights to jury trials by those accused of misdemeanors. Critics have said the law goes even softer on crime, which is a major issue nationwide. D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser, vetoed the legislation, but city legislators overrode her veto in January, prompting GOP lawmakers to propose a federal resolution to overturn the law.
Biden’s decision to support that Republican-led resolution stunned and enraged Democrats, who felt he had betrayed his claimed support for D.C. home rule. Many were confused because the White House in February had put forward a Statement of Administration Policy (SAP) that stated the administration “opposes” the resolution disapproving of D.C.’s crime bill. After expressing support for D.C. statehood, the White House’s policy paper said, “Congress should respect the District of Columbia’s autonomy to govern its own local affairs.”
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When the resolution came up for a House vote, 173 Democrats voted against it, taking what they thought was the administration’s position. Yet after the resolution passed, Biden abruptly changed his position on Thursday, tweeting: “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. If the Senate votes to overturn what D.C. Council did – I’ll sign it.”
“This ain’t it,” said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., who was one of several Democrats upset with Biden’s decision. “D.C. has a right to govern itself like any other state or municipality. If the President supports D.C. statehood, he should govern like it.”
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Several House Democrats indicated they were caught unaware by the president’s decision. But White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre defended the president’s position on Friday, insisting, “there was never a change of heart.” She said that House Democrats were informed of Biden’s intentions on Wednesday during their annual policy retreat in Baltimore, one day before he made his announcement. Biden informed Senate Democrats separately at a caucus meeting on Thursday.
The Republican-led resolution against D.C.’s criminal code passed with the support of 31 Democrats in the House. With Biden indicating he will sign the bill if it reaches his desk, it is likely to pass the Senate with bipartisan support when it comes up for a vote as early as next week.
Fox News’ Madeline Coggins contributed to this report.