D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson on Monday said he sent a letter to the Senate to withdraw changes to the city’s crime law ahead of a vote on a Republican-backed bill designed to undo them.
Mendelson’s withdrawal comes after President Joe Biden told Senate Democrats at a closed-door lunch meeting last week that he won’t veto the measure and will allow Congress to overrule the D.C. Council, angering advocates for the city’s autonomy.
During a press conference Monday, Mendelson said he noted within the “very brief” letter that his withdrawal means that the crime bill is “no longer properly before the Congress,” saying that the Home Rule Act, which governs D.C., 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 vote to overturn the bill will still go ahead, according to three Senate leadership aides.
“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 DC Council’s transmission to the Senate. We still expect the vote to occur.”
In a statement to NBC News, a White House official said that the president “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.”
The House voted last month to pass the resolution that would block those revisions to the city’s criminal code. The Senate is expected to vote to pass the measure 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.”
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser also opposed the changes passed by the D.C. Council and vetoed them. But 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 to the bill and send it 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.
Liz Brown-Kaiser, Frank Thorp V and Kelly O’Donnell contributed.