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Yet Another Congressional Hearing on the Nation’s Capital

On October 12, 2023, the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Crime and Federal Government Surveillance held a hearing, entitled "Victims of Violent Crime in the District of Columbia." This hearing, which happened months after the federal government prevented D.C.’s crime bill from becoming law, was at least the fourth U.S. House hearing of 2023 that focused on Washington, D.C. The others were Overdue Oversight of the Capital City: Part I hearing of the U.S. House Oversight and Accountability Committee on March 29, 2023 (This hearing was described in the “Fears-Turned Reality: Congress and the District of Columbia in 2023 So Far” blog post.); Overdue Oversight of the Capital City: Part II hearing of the U.S. House Oversight and Accountability Committee on May 16, 2023 (That hearing was partly about crime.) (This hearing was discussed in the “House Republicans Use “Oversight” Hearings to Inflict Insults on the District of Columbia” blog post.); and American Confidence in Elections: The Path to Election Integrity in the District of Columbia hearing of the U.S. House of Representatives Committees on House Administration and Oversight and Accountability (This hearing was discussed in the “House Republicans Use “Oversight” Hearings to Inflict Insults on the District of Columbia” blog post.). In addition, multiple U.S. House committee markups at least partly focused on the District of Columbia.

This October 12, 2023, hearing is the latest in a series of U.S. House Judiciary Committee hearings that address crime in Democratic-led cities. That committee attempts to use crime in Democratic-led cities (like D.C.) to make political points while it does not focus on crime in Republican-ruled areas. Overall, as respected Democrats and elected officials say, Congress is eager to interfere with (but not help) the nation’s capital due to political motivations. If the U.S. House truly wanted to help crime, it would also hold hearings on Republican-led cities and states.

For example, the Judiciary Committee focused on New York City in one hearing. However, according to Newsweek, that city’s crime rate is lower than some Republican-led cities, including Oklahoma City and Miami. As historian Kevin Kruse posted on social media, “A recent study found New York City to be the fifth safest big city in America, while Cleveland -- right next to Jim Jordan's district -- ranked as the seventh most dangerous city…yet Jordan is complaining about crimes in NYC.”

Furthermore, thinktank Third Way reported that in every year from 2000 to 2020, states (which voted for then-U.S. President Donald Trump in 2020) had higher murder rates than states that supported future U.S. President Joe Biden. The state with the top murder rate for all 21 of those years is Republican-led Louisiana. Only once in that time has a Democratic-led state ranked #2 in terms of murder rate. When all 21 years were combined, the per capita Trump states’ murder rate was 23 percent higher than the Biden states’ murder rate. Higher murder rates in Republican states can be attributed to guns, poverty, educational attainment, and social services/police resources.

In 2023, the Judiciary Committee held three of these hearing that attack just Democratic-led cities. Crime victims serving as witnesses at these hearings could cause the public to want to address crime in those hearings’ cities. On April 17, 2023, that committee held a field hearing, entitled “Victims of Violent Crime in Manhattan,” in New York City, New York. Then, on September 26, 2023, that committee hosted a field hearing, entitled “Victims of Violent Crime in Chicago,” in Chicago, Illinois. Finally, the October 12th hearing centered on the Republicans’ major target of the District of Columbia. At that October 12th hearing, U.S. Representative Tom Tiffany (R-WI) suggested again that that committee hold a hearing in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, regarding crime. He does not represent Milwaukee in Congress. During that same October 12th hearing, U.S. Representative Laurel Lee (R-FL) connected D.C. crime to national crime, attacking Democrats when saying,

We must face the reality of the crime epidemic in Washington, D.C., and do more, and the reason that we are here is plain, and it is obvious. It is the reckless and irresponsible rhetoric and failed policies of the Democrat Party and the Biden Administration that has emboldened, emboldened criminals in cities across America. We owe the residents here and the visitors to our Capital so much more.

She also said, “What we see here today, the testimony that we have heard today is the entirely predictable outcome of the reckless and irresponsible rhetoric and policies of the Democrat Party who are undermining the men and women of law enforcement and the rule of law in America.”

The October 12, 2023, hearing seems to be another hearing with the goal of making political points, not to truly fix D.C.’s crime issues. As Michael Thorning, who works on democratic issues at the Bipartisan Policy Center, asked, “if Congress is doing this in service of its oversight of the District of Columbia, to what degree are the members involved in the hearing really looking for solutions? Or are these just opportunities to highlight a political issue for them?”

U.S. House Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) thought that this hearing would not help crime in D.C. She said, “This one makes no sense” and questioned its usefulness, as Congress had already heard from the D.C Mayor, the D.C. Council Chair, and the U.S. Attorney Matt Graves in 2023. According to her, if Congress wanted to assist the nation’s capital, it would appropriate federal money to help D.C. have more police officers and not have D.C. budget riders (i.e. – one that would allow out-of-state people to carry guns in D.C. and on public transportation – That rider was mentioned in the “Congressional Appropriations Bill Contains Anti-D.C. Provisions” blog piece.).

U.S. Delegate Norton condemned the hearing in a press release issued on the day before that hearing:

Republicans have a peculiar preoccupation with expending their resources, which rightly belong to their own constituents, on meddling in local D.C. governmental affairs – a district none of them represent in Congress. Particularly at a time when Republican extremism has paralyzed the House, tomorrow’s hearing is a demonstration of Republicans’ peculiar and irresponsible obsession with local D.C. affairs. This undemocratic, paternalistic fixation consistently denies their own constituents time, attention and resources that should be used to solve problems for the members’ own districts.

I will continue working to do everything within my power to stop congressional meddling in local D.C. affairs, and I have one message for the current House Republicans: Keep your hands off D.C.

Local elected officials also issued statements. D.C. Attorney General Brian Schwalb had the following statement, “Federal politicians and prosecutors in the U.S. attorney’s office don’t know or care more about keeping D.C. safe than District officials who are elected by and accountable to District residents.” Since D.C. does not have voting representation in the U.S. Congress, its residents do not elect voting Members of Congress who meddle in local D.C. issues. In a statement, D.C. Council Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety Chair Brooke Pinto remarked,

I urge Congress to assist us in our goal to improve safety by supporting common sense gun control legislation, filling critical judicial vacancies in our DC Courts, increasing staffing at the U.S. attorney’s office, and allowing the District government to effectively represent the interests of our residents and visitors.

The hearing occurred during the Republicans-caused state of US. House turmoil, the Ukraine war, and a new Middle East catastrophe. On October 3, 2023, for the first time in history, the U.S. House voted its Speaker [Kevin McCarthy (R-CA)] out of his leadership role. U.S. Representative Patrick McHenry (R-NC) became Speaker Pro Tempore, a temporary role with limited powers from a U.S. House rule that was developed after the September 11, 2001, attacks. Republicans have had difficulty choosing a successor. They have been repeating their struggles before electing compromise U.S. Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) as Speaker in 2015 and electing U.S. Representative McCarthy on the 15th ballot on the fifth day of voting in January 2023 (the longest time of voting for a Speaker of the U.S. House since 1859).

Although the lack of a Speaker halted much of the U.S. House’s work, the October 12th hearing still occurred. As U.S. Representative Garrett Graves (R-LA) said, “The House of Representatives is effectively frozen.” and “We’re not able to actually advance legislation. We can’t even refer bills to committee.” Meanwhile, the Russia-Ukraine war is on its second year. On October 7, 2023, Hamas attacked Israel, but Congress cannot pass Israel aid until it elects a Speaker. The ouster of McCarthy increased the likelihood of a U.S. government shutdown starting in the middle of November. As long as there is no Speaker, the U.S. House cannot pass appropriations bills and/or continuing resolutions that would prevent a shutdown. The October 12, 2023, hearing seems to be the first U.S. House hearing since McCarthy’s ouster and the only U.S. House hearing that occurred during the week of October 9, 2023. At the October 12th hearing, multiple Members discussed the lack of a Speaker. The next U.S. House hearings appear to have occurred on October 18th.

The October 12th hearing witnesses were a mix of crime victims and other individuals. They include Gaynor Jablonski (who was attacked inside his business in from his young son), Mitchell Sobolevsky (who was a victim of robbery at gunpoint), Charles Stimson (who is an expert regarding crime control, national security, homeland security, and drug policy at the Heritage Foundation), Greg Pemberton (who is a Metropolitan Police Department detective and Chairman of the D.C. Police Union), Lindsey Appiah (who is Washington, D.C.’s, Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice), and Myisha Richards (who is a firefighter paramedic for the District of Columbia Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department). The committee hearing included a brief video about crime in D.C. and a video without sound of a person attacking Jablonski.

Jablonski, Sobolevsky, and Richards personalized D.C.’s crime crisis by recounting their own experiences. Sobolevsky was robbed at gunpoint by a 16-year-old, who was connected to at least seven similar attacks, in Shaw in 2020. Jablonski was attacked by an armed man in his pub during the summer of 2023. Both these victims felt that their attackers were not punished enough, which they tied to D.C. not decreasing violence. The attackers both received lower amounts of time than what prosecutors requested, indicating that at least some violent crimes in D.C. are being prosecuted. Within two months of being released from jail, the teenager (who attacked Sobolevsky) robbed a 7-Eleven store. Richards discussed being attacked while responding to an emergency call in 2020 and testified about her physical and lifelong mental effects of this experience. She expressed firefighters and EMS workers being worried about becoming patients when trying to care for people.

Although there was consensus at this hearing about D.C.’s crime crisis, a hearing on just D.C. is unwarranted. The District of Columbia is on track to having the highest number of homicides since the late 1990s, and the level of violent crime has been up by 40 percent compared to the same time in 2022. Republican Matt Gaetz (R-FL), who is incidentally responsible for McCarthy’s ouster and who was the subject of a U.S. Department of Justice investigation about whether he had sex with an underage female and funded her travel with him (In addition, he at least has been the subject of a U.S. House Ethics Committee investigation over sexual misconduct, drug use, or certain other behavior.), participated in this hearing. He detailed increases in various crimes, including sexual assault and motor vehicle theft, in the nation’s capital. He voiced support for a federal review of gun control laws. When asked, Appiah admitted that “there is a crisis.”

Some Members attacked D.C. unjustly. Subcommittee Chair Andy Biggs (R-AZ) said, “No section of this city can be considered safe anymore.” Many people would disagree with his blatant attack. He also said that “the Washington, D.C. city council has passed laws that emboldened criminals and hamstrung the police.” At least one Republican accused local lawmakers of trying to “defund the police.” However, in 2020, amidst calls to defund the police from Washingtonians, the D.C. Council passed a budget that increased police department by 1.6 percent (after D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s budget called for a three-percent increase in that budget). Notably, Democratic-led cities fund police at much higher levels on a per capita basis than Republican-led cities do.

Republicans attacked U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Graves while Democrats defended him. Subcommittee Chair Biggs accused Graves and others of being “soft on criminals in Washington, D.C.” He also discussed Graves declining to prosecute 67 percent of attests presented to the D.C. Superior Court. Multiple Democratic subcommittee members defended Graves. Ranking Member Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) said that Graves assured her that 90 percent of people arrested for the most serious crimes are prosecuted. She also remarked that Graves tries to prosecute cases. Full committee Ranking Member Jerry Nadler (D-NY) also mentioned the 90 percent prosecution rate.

Some Democrats condoned this hearing. Ranking Member Nadler (D-NY) called this hearing as “yet another attempt to distract and mislead the American people.” He also said,

The Republican majority offers no policy solutions that would actually protect residents of Washington, D.C. or other big cities. Instead, they seek only to flood the cities with more guns while they work against meaningful legislation to invest in our communities to support proven public safety measures.

Nadler’s point about guns dovetails with Subcommittee Ranking Member Jackson Lee’s and Appiah’s remarks about illegal guns coming to D.C. from neighboring areas. As Appiah said, D.C. has “significant gun trafficking from our neighbors in Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia; that is where the illegal flow of guns into the District is.” She discussed how D.C. works with partners to “stop gun trafficking.”

Some Democrats exposed Republicans’ hypocrisy about police. Republicans try to show they support police officers. For example, at this October 12th hearing,full committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-OH) said, “when you disparage the good men and women who put on the uniform risk their life every day in our streets, you also get a shortage of police officers and more crime” and “we have to begin to say to our law enforcement, thank you, thank you for doing a tough job.”

However, Republicans do not always support law enforcement. According to Ranking Member Nadler, Republicans want to defund the FBI and other federal law enforcement agencies. On May 21, 2023, Subcommittee Chair Biggs posted the following on social media, “Defund and dismantle the FBI. Congress has the purse strings.” Ranking Member Nadler also said that few Republicans were worried about violent crime in D.C. during the January 6th attack of the U.S. Capitol. He also remarked that “many of our Republican colleagues downplayed the brutality that these officers faced.” Ranking Member Jackson Lee said that Republicans do not discuss the violence of January 6th and were not interested in voting for a commission about that insurrection.

In addition, full committee Ranking Member Nadler and U.S. Representative Hank Johnson (D-GA) discussed some Republican opposition to giving the Congressional Gold Medal to Capitol Police and D.C. police officers who helped defend the U.S. Capitol on January 6th. These two U.S. Representatives said that 21 Republicans, including Judiciary Committee members, voted against this major honor. Republicans were the only Members who voted on June 15, 2021, against awarding these Congressional Gold Medals. Subcommittee Ranking Member Biggs defended his no vote, posting on social media the following day, “My thoughts on yesterday's vote to award medals to the police who defended the Capitol. I will always support our police officers, but I will not condone the Left's politicization of law enforcement.” In an accompanying video, he said that he, “can’t stand the hypocrisy for political purposes.” In addition on March 17, 2021, Republicans were the only Members who voted against awarding four Congressional Gold Medals to United States Capitol Police and people who protected the U.S. Capitol. Likewise, some of those 12 Republicans are Judiciary Committee members.

Although Delegate Norton does not serve on the Judiciary Committee, she participated in this hearing. She spoke during Ranking Member Nadler’s time of questions. D.C. Delegate Norton accused the hearing of violating the D.C. Home Rule Act, which grants D.C. residents self-governance and relieves Congress of making laws on local D.C. issues. She said that Congress has constitutional authority, but not duty, to legislate on these matters. According to her, James Madison in Federalist paper 43 mentioned District residents voting for a municipal legislature for local reasons. In that paper, Madison wrote

The extent of this federal district is sufficiently circumscribed to satisfy every jealousy of an opposite nature. And as it is to be appropriated to this use with the consent of the State ceding it; as the State will no doubt provide in the compact for the rights and the consent of the citizens inhabiting it; as the inhabitants will find sufficient inducements of interest to become willing parties to the cession; as they will have had their voice in the election of the government which is to exercise authority over them; as a municipal legislature for local purposes, derived from their own suffrages, will of course be allowed them;

Delegate Norton said the Supreme Court of the United States held that Congress can give “full legislative power to D.C. on local D.C. matters.” She talked about D.C. residents voting for D.C. Councilmembers, not for Members of Congress; taxation without representation; the Revolutionary War; and her D.C. statehood bill. Her H.R.51 bill would turn the nation’s capital into the state of Washington, Douglass Commonwealth.

Local organizations mobilized at that hearing. Hands Off DC distributed maroon t-shirts, and D.C. statehood buttons were handed out. As shown in the below photograph (which was taken from a video of that hearing), local activists in Hands Off DC shirts sat in the center of the second row during the hearing, calling to attention Congressional interference in local D.C. matter.

After that hearing, some local D.C. activists expressed support for Congress to enact laws that would stop gun trafficking across state boundaries rather than interfere with D.C.

Pay attention to continued Congressional interference in local D.C. affairs. Let your Member of Congress know that this pattern must stop. D.C. residents should be able to govern themselves.


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