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New Year but Same Story: Congress Focuses on D.C. Crime Again at a February 6, 2024, Committee Mark-Up

By: Miriam Edelman

The U.S. House of Representatives’ Oversight and Accountability Committee continued its extreme oversight of the District of Columbia at its February 6, 2024, full committee mark-up. At its business meeting, the committee considered and passed H.R. 5798. As detailed below, topics mentioned during this mark-up included Trump, Republican-led areas, the Revolutionary War, and statehood, not uncommon in some Congressional proceedings about Washington, D.C.


House Oversight and Accountability Committee Chairman James Comer (R-KY) discussed Biden’s veto of H.J. Res. 42; this veto allowed D.C.’s policing bill to become law. Comer stated that this bill would repeal some of D.C.’s policing law. He repeated Congress’ attacks on D.C.’s crimes, stating, “Violent crime is rising in Washington, D.C. From 2022 to 2023, all crime increased by 30%; homicides increased by 35%; violent crime increased by 39%; robberies rose by 67%; motor vehicle tests increased by staggering 82%.” Comer remarked that H.R. 5798 “shows Metropolitan Police Department officers the respect they deserve.”


House Oversight and Accountability Committee Ranking Member Jamie Raskin (D-MD) continued his ongoing support of the District of Columbia. He remarked that the attacks on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, injured 140 Metropolitan Police and U.S. Capitol Police officers. He mentioned the ironic nature of H.R. 5798, saying that through this bill, Republicans want to make it more difficult for the D.C. Police Chief to fire or discipline police officers who committee major crimes. He said Congress could have a hearing on passing a national universal background check on violent criminal for firearm sales and on a federal ban on AR-15 guns, both of which are supported by most Americans. Raskin mentioned that H.R. 5798 is the fifth attempt of the D.C. police union to achieve its goals. He also remarked that most Americans had never heard of the topic addressed in the bill. He said that the last four D.C. Police Chiefs need the disciplinary rules that H.R. 5798 would undo. Raskin remarked that 12 of the 13 D.C. Councilmembers agree with those police chiefs, as evidenced by a letter that they sent the day before.


On February 6, 2024, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson posted on social media his opposition to H.R. 5798. Mendelson included a copy of the D.C. Council letter that Raskin had mentioned in his post. All Councilmembers but Vincent Gray signed the letter. The letter’s last sentence is “H.R. 5798 would make it harder for law enforcement leadership in the Nation’s Capital to remove bad actors who impede credible, competent, and lawful policing in the District.”


At the February 6th mark-up, Raskin continued critiquing H.R. 5798, referring to it as “a shocking assault on local democracy.” He said that this bill “marks a new low in the appalling efforts to override local government in Washington and micromanage the affairs of the people of DC.” According to Raskin, this bill would worsen criminal issues in D.C.


Comer introduced letters of support for H.R. 5798 from various entities, including Las Vegas and Pomona related entities. Raskin mentioned that other jurisdictions that “have suddenly taken an interest in Washington, D.C.”


U.S. Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) sharply criticized D.C.’s murder rates and crime records as “an absolute embarrassment to our country.” She discussed the carjacking of a Member of Congress months ago, the death of a former Trump Administration official after being shot in D.C., and attacks of many Hill employees who walked in D.C. Greene said, “we should be supporting police officers, not attacking Americans’ gun rights.” In a partisan attack, she said, “Democrats would love to take away the gun rights of American citizens and blame guns that never get up by themselves and shoot people.” She attacked Democrats again, saying “I also heard President Trump come under attack once again because Democrats have nothing else to say to defend their own policies but attack President Trump.” She said Democrats-supported Black Lives Matter riots caused two billion dollars in damages and that rioters almost burnt down D.C. when Trump was inaugurated in 2017. She remarked that Democrats “want to attack President Trump every single day and take away police officers’ ability to stop criminals and arrest criminals and protect our city streets our community streets and our nation's capital, and I'm sick and tired of it.” She also attacked the District of Columbia, remarking, “we all know you can't walk around this city without being in danger of being robbed or carjacked or murdered.”


Then, Raskin and Taylor Greene had a brief testy exchange with each other. Raskin asked her if she would yield to a question. Taylor Greene responded, “I will not yield to one of your stupid questions that are always attacking me and attacking President Trump.” Raskin and Greene went back and forth. Raskin asked about “a smart question, an intelligent question.” Taylor Greene retorted, “you have no smart or intelligent questions.”


U.S. Representative Robert Garcia (D-CA) spoke next. He brought up Taylor Greene’s organizing a trip to the D.C. jail to support January 6th insurrectionists, whom Republicans have called “political prisoners or hostages.” Later, Raskin also said that Taylor Greene referred to the insurrectionists using those labels and called out the false equivalencies, mentioning real hostages (including Israelis and Americans held by Hamas). Garcia suggested that Taylor Greene run for Mayor of D.C. if she really wants to fix D.C.


Raskin said he wanted to ask Taylor Greene what in H.R. 5798 would decrease D.C.’s murder rate and violence. He remarked, “the sole purpose of the legislation as I can read it is simply to say that the chief of police no longer has disciplinary authority over his or her own police force, but instead, it will be subject to collective bargaining.” He mentioned the D.C. Council letter again and statements of four different police chiefs. He thought that Taylor Greene might not have understood what she spoke about.


Comer asked Garcia why crime did not decrease in D.C. (when it had declined in the U.S.). Garcia said that instead of focusing on only D.C., the committee should focus on Kentucky, Arkansas, and Texas (all mainly Republican states), and other cities where crime increased.


Raskin went back to issues regarding Taylor Greene. He said that crime has increased in her state of Georgia. He wondered if she would support collective bargaining for public workers, in Georgia, which is not currently permitted.


Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) used her turn to “strongly oppose this undemocratic and paternalistic bill.” She claimed that “this bill is the seventh bill this Congress House Republicans have marked up or brought directly to the floor to repeal” D.C. laws. According to her, Congress has the constitutional authority, but not duty, to legislate on D.C. issues. She remarked, “House Republicans have repeatedly demonstrated that they believe D.C. residents, a majority of whom are black and brown, are unworthy or incapable of governing themselves.” She said D.C. residents can vote D.C. Councilmembers, but not Members of Congress, out of office. She felt that there is “never justification for Congress repealing legislation enacted by D.C.” She discussed D.C.’s policing bill and the Revolutionary War (in relation to taxation without representation, which is what D.C. residents experience). She mentioned her statehood bill. According to her, “Congress has the Constitutional authority to admit the state of Washington DC; it simply lacks the will.”


U.S. Representative Clay Higgins (R-LA), spoke about police. Raskin asked Higgins if he felt that Congress should make certain decisions nationwide. Higgins replied that as a constitutionalist, he said Congress has authority over D.C. and that states should determine what happens in states.


Comer criticized D.C. He said that crime is “a huge problem nationwide in the in the big cities, in the blue cities, but it's especially a problem here in our nation's capital.” Hence, he did not acknowledge then the crime in Republican-led areas (as Garcia had). He also remarked, “Nobody wants to work for the Washington, D.C., police force because they are treated like the enemy by the D.C. Council.” He thought that H.R. 5798 would fix that problem.


Raskin spoke again. He thought that D.C. Mayor’s Muriel Bowser does not support H.R. 5798. He also mentioned police officer shortages in Kentucky, Comer’s state. Raskin said that the problem is nationwide, not just in the District of Columbia. He said that other states made the same decision as D.C. about collective bargaining. He mentioned federal courts’ rejections of legal challenges. He does not want to overturn D.C. residents’ will.


U.S. Representative Paul Gosar (R-AZ), whom the U.S. House censured in 2021 over a video of a character killing another who was supposed to be U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), minimized the actions of the Shaman, a January 6th insurrectionist. He also said that police officers were not killed on January 6th, and Raskin disagreed (mentioning Officer Brian Sicknick, who died of natural causes almost 24 hours after the January 6th attacks). Raskin talked about people blaming certain actions on Antifa and the Federal Bureau of Investigations.


Later that day, Norton released a press release critiquing the Congressional meeting, saying:

By voting to report out this bill out today, I can only conclude that the Republican committee members believe that D.C. residents, a majority of whom are Black and Brown, are unworthy of governing themselves. I will continue fighting to defeat this and future actions seeking to override the will of D.C. residents expressed through the District’s own local government.

 

On February 7, 2024, the Oversight and Accountability Committee Democrats issued a press release decrying H.R. 5798. Their statement on the bill ends, “The District of Columbia’s police accountability and transparency law was passed unanimously by the D.C. Council two years ago.  Committee Democrats strongly support the District’s right to self-governance and autonomy.”


Congress must stop its paternalistic treatment of D.C. Washington, D.C., residents must be able to govern themselves, just like other Americans do.

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