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Second D.C.-Related Mark-Up in As Many Months for the U.S. House Oversight and Accountability Committee (March 7, 2024, Mark-Up) (Part One – H.R.7530)

By: Miriam Edelman

On March 7, 2024, the U.S. House Oversight and Accountability Committee interfered into local D.C. issues at its full committee mark-up, where it considered and passed H.R. 7530, the D.C. Criminal Reform to Immediately Make Everyone Safer (D.C. CRIMES) Act and H.R. 7526, the D.C. Consumer Vehicle Choice Protection Act. This article is about H.R. 7530, and an upcoming piece will be about H.R. 7530.

 

This piece, along with multiple previous and future DCNOW blog pieces, include detailed quotations from letters, press releases, Congressional proceedings, and/or other events in order to give readers a sense of these proceedings. This reporting, with links to full letters, press releases, and videos, may be helpful to current and future advocacy.

 

Like other D.C.-related Congressional proceedings, the March 7th mark-up was contentious and included topics far afield from the bill under consideration. Multiple Representatives falsely accused D.C.’s government of not working on crime despite the D.C. government’s actions of the past several years. U.S. Constitution-granted Congressional power over D.C. was mentioned. Hypocrisy also was discussed, as Republicans voted for H.R. 7530, which would overturn a law that is similar to laws in their own states. This mark-up was so antagonistic that multiple times, Members objected to certain letters and reports being entered into the record when usually, entering information happens without disputes. 

 

Secure D.C. Omnibus Amendment Act

On Match 5, 2024, the D.C. Council passed the Secure D.C. Omnibus Amendment Act. The bill showed that the District of Columbia takes crime seriously as the piece of legislation occurred because of D.C.’s recent major increase in crime. The bill increases punishment and decreases restrictions on police officers.

 

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser supported the passage of the bill, posting the following statement later that day:

Passing and implementing Secure DC is a critical step in the work to build a safer DC by rebalancing our public safety and justice ecosystem in favor of safety and accountability. Today, I am grateful for all the people who made their voices heard and demanded action. I am grateful for the leadership of Councilmember Pinto and all the councilmembers who listened to the concerns of our community and voted in support of common-sense legislation that recognizes the importance of accountability in our ecosystem. We are a city that is committed to creating opportunity and that believes in second chances, but we will not tolerate violence and we will not tolerate criminal activity that disrupts our sense of safety and our ability to build thriving neighborhoods. The provisions that were passed on an emergency basis last summer have already had a positive impact on crime trends. Together, we can continue to drive down crime and build a safer, stronger DC.

 

On March 11, 2024, Mayor Bowser signed the bill. She said “People are tired of crime and violence and they want accountability” and “Secure DC will help our law enforcement partners deliver that accountability.”

 

March 6, 2024, Letter of D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson

On March 6, 2024, Bowser and D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson wrote a letter to the House Oversight and Accountability Committee’s Chair James Comer (R-KY) and Ranking Member Jamie Raskin (D-MD) opposing the committee’s work regarding both bills of the March 7th mark-up. Bowser and Mendelson wrote about D.C.’s government’s recent work on crime and the following about H.R. 7530:

H.R. 7530, the “D.C. Criminal Reforms to Immediately Make Everyone Safe Act,” or “DC CRIMES Act,” would halt work underway at the Council just this week to further this progress. Language in H.R. 7530 would amend the Home Rule Act to prohibit the Council from enacting “any act, resolution, or rule to change any criminal liability sentence” which would stand in the way of current efforts in the Council’s “Secure D.C. Omnibus Amendment Act” to increase accountability for certain gun crimes, organized retail theft, and carjacking.”

They also wrote

If H.R. 7530 were to become law, the District would be unable to respond to changing and emerging crime trends to address constituents’ concerns, including enhancing specific criminal penalties. H.R. 7530 would result in delays in our ability to respond to crime trends with stronger criminal penalties.

and “And given recent experience, these delays could be extensive—letting criminals off with lighter sentences while legislation sits in Congress.”

 

March 7, 2024, Mark-Up

The House Oversight and Accountability Committee discussed H.R. 7530. Comer publicly supported the bill. He mentioned the committee’s three hearings with D.C. officials and private meetings he and other Committee members had with D.C. officials about D.C.’s “crime crisis.” He attacked D.C., exclaiming that “the progressive policies of the D.C. Council are simply not working.” According to him, Congress’ barring D.C.’s crime bill from becoming law prevented D.C.’s crime from getting “much worse.” He said that H.R. 7530 “expands upon that work.” He would like to change D.C.’s current criminal laws through H.R. 7530. He stated that H.R. 7530 would give authority to only Congress to change sentencing and criminal liability laws, thus decreasing D.C.’s home rule. He attacked D.C.’s legislature and complimented Congress, saying “The D.C. Council would have succeeded in implementing radical soft-on-crime policies if it were not for the bipartisan efforts of this Congress and this committee to disprove the legislation.” He seemed to try to drive a wedge between top D.C. government officials when he said that the D.C. Council overturned Bowser’s veto of its bill. According to Comer, “we cannot allow further pro-crime policies to be put in place while this crisis continues.”

 

Not surprisingly, Raskin (D-MD) supported Washington, D.C. He said it is the seventh time this committee addresses D.C. when it oversees the U.S. He remarked,

I just wonder why when we finally take a brief break from the GOP’s impeachment investigation against Joe Biden for crimes still unnamed and unspecified, we have such an absurdly disproportionate focus on Washington D.C., where less than one third of one percent of Americans live.

Raskin discussed Republicans opposing abortion, President Donald Trump-appointed justices overturning Roe v. Wade, and voters rejecting state anti-abortion bills. He talked about Trump destroying a major immigration and border compromise of Democrats and Republicans. Raskin remarked,

Republicans can't talk about immigration anymore. It exposes Trump's moral bankruptcy, which mirrors his approaching financial bankruptcy based on all of the Court verdicts against him for his various torts. So, we're back to Washington, D.C., today, the city they obviously don't know in a community they don't participate in with a government they just want to vilify. Do they really care more about the people of Washington? The mayor Bowser, and Council Chairman Mendelson and the rest of the City Council sent us a letter explaining that the two bills we're going to hear today are just monkey wrenches thrown in to block all of the progress the District is currently making this week on the very problems that they pretend to be interested in.

Raskin mentioned the D.C. Council’s recently-passed 100-page crime bill.

 

Raskin then discussed the Republicans’ hypocrisy about crime, criticizing crime in bill sponsor Donalds’ Florida. The Parkland and Pulse Nightclub shootings occurred in Florida. Raskin said that Republicans oppose universal violent criminal background check, a check which is supported by more than 90 percent of Americans; a ban on military-style assault weapons that have been used by mass-murderers; and red-flag laws. According to Raskin, Republicans’

plan is to ignore the brutal daily toll of gun violence in their own states and then instead lecture to and dictate to the disenfranchised 700,000 citizens of Washington, D.C., policies that they want to conjure up for them.

Raskin said Norton will

explain the absurdity of these substitute measures [of Republicans] and how paradoxical it is that they advocate measures that are far more severe in Washington than they have in their own states and we will pursue this hypocrisy simply because they insist on brandishing it before the whole country again.

 

Bill sponsor Donalds supported his bill after he said, “I have no idea what the hell Mr. Raskin even talking about.” He defended Congress’ discussing about D.C. crime:

The reason why it's important for Congress to actually speak to the conditions of crime in the District of Colombia is because a large portion of the District of Colombia's funding actually comes from Congress. The reason we don't talk about what's happening in the other states is because other states have the jurisdictions that the federal government does not directly fund.

Donalds failed to say that just last year, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee held hearings regarding crime in New York City and Chicago (as was described in DC NOW blog’s “Yet Another Congressional Hearing on the Nation’s Capital” post). Donalds does not serve on the House Judiciary Committee, but he still misrepresented Congressional actions regarding crime.

           

Donalds attacked D.C., remarking “We cannot ignore the facts that crime is out of control in the District of Columbia.” He discussed Members of Congress and Congressional staff being victims of crimes in Washington, D.C., repeating a common Republican talking point. His “if the D.C. City Council is not going to act” comment dismissed the D.C. Council’s substantial amount of work on crime in recent years, including just days before. He was patronizing, remarking

If you were going to ask me do I want to sit here and have try to help the District solve its carjacking problems or its robbery problems, I would tell you no, but the problem has been ignored for far too long.

He seemed to pretend that the D.C. Council had not addressed crime, but he should have known better, as just last year, he voted for H.J. Res. 26 to prevent D.C. government’s-passed crime bill from becoming law. He continued to lie about D.C., stating “If the D.C. Council is not going to act, Congress does have a responsibility to act in the interest of the District of Colombia.” Then, he criticized D.C.s crime-related juvenile-related law.

 

Donalds’ “We have a responsibility to hold people accountable to the law” remark contradicted his actions regarding Trump. For example, Donalds referred to Trump’s legal scandals regarding his allegedly taking classified documents and obstructing an investigation as “a bogus investigation.” Strong Trump ally Donalds has been rumored to at least have been on Trump’s short list for Vice President in 2024 and even said in March 2024, that he would not certify the 2028 election results.

 

Donalds refuted Raskin’s points about crime in Florida, saying

Actually, in Florida, our crime statistics are better than the District of Columbia. Those are the facts. So, the State of Florida is doing quite well. One of the reasons why is because our state attorneys actually prosecute, and we follow the law. We don't make excuses. We don't make excuses.

 

Raskin and Donalds had a testy exchange, illustrative of some interchanges between Members of Congress during Congressional proceedings about D.C. Raskin wanted to ask Donalds a couple of questions. However, Donalds replied, saying “No, Mr. Raskin, you've said far too much today.” Raskin said, “I am sure you think so.”

 

Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) opposed H.R. 7530. She inserted multiple letters into the record, including a letter from Bowser and Mendelson. She criticized the bill as “undemocratic and paternalistic,” noting that it

is the ninth bill this Congress that House Republicans have marked up or brought directly to the Floor to repeal or amend statutes enacted by the duly-elected Council of the District of Columbia. However, this bill is more extreme than the typical such bill because it would permanently prohibit the council from enacting specific policies related to crime.”

 

Norton repeated some of her points of multiple Congress’ D.C.-related proceedings. She remarked that Congress has the Constitutional authority, not duty, to legislate on local D.C. issues. She said D.C. residents can vote D.C. Council members, but not Members of Congress, out of office and that there is no justification for Congress to repeal or amend D.C.-enacted laws. She made her typical points about the Revolutionary War, taxation without representation, and her D.C. statehood bill.

 

Norton expressed her concern about crime in D.C. She mentioned the D.C. Council’s recent passage of a bill that would address crime. She found it “patronizing” to suggest that Donalds knows or cares more than D.C.’s elected officials about D.C.’s public safety. She wanted Members to “keep their hands off of D.C.”

 

Raskin responded to Donalds’ earlier remarks. According to Raskin, the average state gets more money than D.C. does from the federal government. He also said D.C. residents pay more than any state’s residents in taxes per capita and more than 19 states in hard numbers.

 

Representative Nancy Mace (R-SC) offered an amendment to H.R. 7530. First, she attacked D.C., stating “D.C. crime is completely out of control.” She supported the bill, but she felt that it goes too far on juveniles. If passed, her amendment would eliminate the legislation’s section that would end judicial discretion in sentencing youth offenders. From family experience, she saw that mandatory minimum sentencing can harm people, especially first-time offenders. She then discussed mass shootings and her crime-related work in South Carolina’s state legislature and in the U.S. Congress.

 

Raskin stated his support of Mace’s amendment, which improves “a very flawed bill.” He responded to Mace’s comments on mass shootings, but he noted that

Far too often, from her side of the aisle, I hear people denounce crime, but then, when there's a massacre, a gun massacre, they say oh that's a tragedy and we have to pray about it as if there's nothing we can do about it.

Raskin said, “if you want to be tough on crime, you got to be tough on mass shootings as well.” He said that the Brady law, which was named after a Republican assistant who was injured in the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan, saved many lives. He reiterated that more than 95 percent of Americans support a universal violent criminal background check support. He also decried H.R. 7530 as “micromanagement.” 

 

Then, Raskin discussed laws of D.C. and Florida in terms of age of offenders, saying that Donalds criticized D.C. law when Florida’s youth offender law is what Donalds thinks is weak in the D.C law. He pointed out that Florida and other states have the same youth offender law as D.C. He mentioned that Donalds wants the age of the youth offender part in D.C. to be 19 while the age of that section in Florida is 21.

 

Raskin discussed what would happen if D.C. people judged Florida’s laws, which is the reverse of what Congress tries to do with D.C. He mentioned “Governor DeSantis's draconian ban on abortion after six weeks.” They could remove Florida’s “don’t say gay law,” voter suppression laws, and disenfranchisement of former prisoners. Raskin criticized some of Florida’s laws as imposing “a whole regime of censorship and authoritarianism in that state.” Raskin rightly said that D.C. does not legislate for Florida and that

it's the absent Mr. Donalds who gets to legislate for the people of Washington, which means demagoguing about crime issues without even understanding what the local government is doing and without the promise of making any real policy progress on them.

Raskin pointed out the major irony of Republican states lecturing Democratic states and cities about crime while murder rates are much higher in Republican states than in Democratic states.

 

Raskin wanted to insert into the record a Third Way report, entitled “The Two-Decade Red State Murder Problem.” Since someone objected, that report was not entered into the record.

 

Similar to Raskin, Representative Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) supported Mace’s amendment but opposed H.R. 7530. She critiqued the bill as “nothing more than an attack on D.C. statehood.” Like Norton, Pressley wanted Republicans “to keep their hands off of D.C.” Pressley supported D.C.’s self-governance and mentioned the racial justice component, referring to D.C. as “one of the blackest cities in our country.” She criticized Republicans’ efforts as a continued use of the unsuccessful method that caused the school-to-prison pipeline. According to Pressley, H.R. 7530 “is undemocratic; it is a racist attack that prevents the District of Colombia from reforming its criminal legal system.”

 

Representative Gerald Connolly (D-VA) and Raskin spoke about the committee’s practice of inserting materials into the record. Connolly supported information being placed into the record but felt that Democrats were being suppressed by being prohibited from entering information. He worried that this suppression was “starting a precedent that will create a tradition that is unhealthy and damaging to the reputation of this committee and its work.” According to Connolly, no one has to fear anything from materials being placed into the record. He said that entering information means that people have the right to participate in this process. Raskin remarked that a free society depends on reading materials that we agree and disagree with. Raskin discussed the “Two-Decade Red State Murder Problem” report, which is about the higher crimes and murder rates of red states because those states refuse to address gun violence.

 

Representative Scott Perry (R-PA) talked about precedent and his negative experiences in another committee, whose Chair said that Perry was “out of order” because he did not agree with what Perry said. He displayed a Constitution and read from its Article One Section Eight, which is about exercising “exclusive legislation” “in all cases whatsoever” of Washington, D.C. He attacked D.C., saying, “I have no interest in leaving these Capital grounds for fear for my safety. I have no interest. I've got a family that I'm responsible for, got two children that I want to see grow up, and I want them to have a father.” Using Republican talking points, he mentioned a former government official being murdered by gun blocks away. According to Perry, in Washington, D.C., Americans are “afraid to walk down the street from the hotel to get to these buildings.”

 

Perry echoed Donalds by wrongly insinuating that D.C. hasn’t addressed crime. Perry exclaimed, “if DC won't do something about it, article one section eight, to exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever. If y’all won't do, it we will.”

 

Norton discussed Mace’s amendment. Like other Democrats, Norton supported it, but opposed the underlying “fatally flawed” bill. She pointed out that Republicans will vote for a bill that overturns a law that is similar to their states’ (Alabama, Florida, Michigan, New York, and South Carolina) laws. She compared the youth offender law of bill sponsor Donalds’ Florida and of D.C. For example, while the maximum sentencing time in Florida is six years, there is no such limit in our nation’s capital.

 

Raskin reiterated his support for Mace’s amendment. He said that Perry failed to mention that D.C.’s Home Rule charter (of 1973) gave legislative authority on local issues to DC.’s government and that the Supreme Court and other courts upheld that delegation of power. Raskin suggested that we need to redraw D.C.’s boundaries if D.C. residents would like to “get out from under potential political tyranny.” Such an action occurred when some of D.C. became part of Virginia in the 1800’s. Raskin said D.C. could be a state and that 37 (which is equivalent to three-quarters) of the U.S.’s 50 states joined the Union after the U.S. became a country. According to Raskin, “Washington D.C., as we've said today, is an economically-prosperous, politically self-governing jurisdiction that doesn't want people in these legislative drive by hits to be micromanaging and fingerpainting all over their hard-negotiated local legislation.” He acknowledged that earlier this week, the D.C. Council passed a crime-related bill, thus proving wrong other committee members, who said that D.C. had not addressed crime.

 

Representative Anna Luna (R-FL) criticized the “Two-Decade Red State Murder Problem” report that Raskin had mentioned. She found the report a little misleading regarding its data. Raskin wanted to reply, but she refused to let him speak because she wanted to discuss her bill. Later in that same mark-up, that committee considered her H.R. 7526, which would overturn a D.C. Department of Energy and Environment rule regarding vehicle emission standards.

 

Representative Connolly talked again. He supported Mace’s amendment’s intent and spoke about the delegation of Congress’ power regarding the nation’s capital. He discussed his prior management of a large local government and said he would not like Congress interfering with that work when he, not others, know what happens on the ground. He responded to Perry’s remarks about the U.S. Constitution, arguing that Congress has set limits for its intrusion into D.C. affairs. He asked, “are we going to believe in self-government starting in the nation's capital or not?” He thought it was disingenuous to mention the Founding Fathers, as D.C. did not exist during the drafting of the Constitution. According to him, the Founding Fathers would not envision the current D.C. He said that they would feel that D.C. residents “got to be entitled like anyone else in America to self-government.” He defended D.C.’s right to self-governance.

 

Comer spoke about Mace’s amendment and responded to Raskin’s remark that D.C. passed a criminal code. Comer brought up major federal government interference of last year, saying,

let's not pretend ourselves the reason that happened is because of the work of this committee and the fact that our first bill through the markup, House Joint Resolution 26, which rescinded their liberal soft-on-crime policies in Washington, DC., actually passed the House of Representatives in a bipartisan manner. Then, it passed the Senate overwhelmingly, and then, President Biden signed it into law.

If the U.S. government had not intervened, D.C.’s crime bill would have become law, and the D.C. Council might not have passed another piece of legislation recently. Then, Comer attacked D.C.’s crime and D.C.’s policies, saying “The crime problem in DC was so bad; it was so obvious that their soft-on-crime policies were not helping the crime situation any in Washington, and moreover, they were making the situation worse because there was no accountability.” Comer supported Donald’s overlying bill, but he opposed Mace’s amendment. He mentioned “soft-on-crime” again.

 

U.S. Representative Clay Higgins (R-LA) opposed Mace’s amendment. He was paternalistic about D.C., remarking “our compassion for our fellow man and our obligation to interact, where we have jurisdictional authority, to attempt to help our fellow man” about juveniles. He opposed decreasing consequences for juveniles. Then, Norton made a correction about the Youth Rehabilitation Act.

 

Later during that business meeting, the committee resumed consideration of H.R. 7530. It passed Mace’s amendment by a vote of 20 Yes, No 19, and 1 Present. Interestingly, all Democrats (who voted) voted for the amendment, and the only Republican to vote for that amendment was amendment sponsor Mace. A Republican voted Present. If the four Republicans (who did not vote) and two Democrats (who did not vote) voted in the same way as most or all of their committee members of the same political party, that amendment would have been defeated. Then, the committee passed H.R. 7530 on a party-line vote (21 Yes to 19 No) with Republicans (who voted) voting against that bill and Democrats (who voted) voting against that bill.

 

Sometime, House Oversight Republicans spokesman Austin Hacker said Donalds’ bill would not interfere with Secure D.C. However, he attacked D.C., saying “The D.C. Council in particular has no good track history of being tough on crime.”

 

Call to Action

Congress must immediately cease its interference with D.C. It should also stop attacking D.C. and its government.

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