House Republicans intend to hold a hearing this month to dig into D.C. city management — especially targeting the issues of crime and public safety, Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, said Wednesday.
What to know about congressional oversight of D.C.
“Congress has sent a clear message to the D.C. Council: it’s time to make our nation’s capital safe again,” Comer said in a statement to The Washington Post. “All Americans should feel safe in their capital city, but radical left-wing policies have led to a crime crisis and rampant homelessness. As the committee with jurisdiction over the District of Columbia, the Oversight Committee has a constitutional responsibility to conduct oversight of the policies that have plagued our capital city.”
The hearing follows a successful Republican effort — with help from dozens of Democrats — to block D.C. legislation that would have overhauled the city’s outdated criminal code and changed how crimes are defined and people convicted are sentenced. President Biden has signaled he will sign the disapproval resolution, which will mark the first time in a generation that Congress successfully overturns a D.C. bill. Congress has oversight of D.C. through a provision in the Constitution.
Now, House Republicans appear to be broadening their interest in the city’s affairs — the type of relentless intervention that the deep-blue city is well accustomed to facing whenever the House is in Republican hands. As the city gears up for the March 29 hearing, it must also contend with another Republican-led disapproval resolution seeking to block the city’s major police accountability legislation, which was crafted in the aftermath of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020 and finalized in January. And separately, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and other Republicans have launched an inquiry into the treatment of people detained in the D.C. jail before trial on charges related to the Capitol riot, leaving D.C. with its hands full in responding to Republican requests.
Republicans have long flexed their oversight of D.C. whenever they are in charge, including successfully crafting budget riders that restrict how D.C. spends its funds on subsidizing abortion or creating a legal recreational marijuana market. But the support from dozens of Democrats to block the D.C. crime bill — even though they have broadly backed D.C. statehood — was more notable, showing how the principle of D.C. home rule isn’t always the winning value for them when a politically thorny issue such as crime gets in the way.
In the hearing, Republicans are likely to focus on D.C.’s approach to reducing violent crime, which decreased last year but remains higher than pre-pandemic levels in some categories. A Post-Schar School poll also recently found that more than three-fourths of D.C. residents feel safe in their neighborhoods.
Rep. Jamie Raskin (Md.), the top Democrat on the committee, described the hearing as “just one more political distraction designed to placate the ultra-MAGA base and one more affront to self-government in local Washington.”
“If my colleagues want to act as the largest city council in America, with 535 Members, this hearing should take place at the D.C. Council Chambers or somewhere in the local city so residents can actually participate,” Raskin said in a statement Thursday.
In the D.C. crime bill, Republicans took aim at provisions that eliminated mandatory minimums for almost all crimes and reduced statutory maximums for other violent crimes such as carjacking, robbery and sexual assault. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) had vetoed the bill over similar concerns.
The criminal code revisions also created other tools to allow prosecutors and judges to enhance charges and lengthen ultimate sentences, and in some cases the revisions increased maximum penalties for other crimes such as attempted murder and certain other sexual abuse, though those changes were not often part of the debate. Republicans painted Democrats who voted against the disapproval resolution as “soft on crime.”
Reps. Andrew S. Clyde (R-Ga.) and Andrew R. Garbarino (R-N.Y.) are leading the new disapproval resolution seeking to block the legislation to overhaul policing, which includes banning chokeholds and other police tactics, increasing public access to footage from police body cameras, and increasing public access to police disciplinary records. The Republican lawmakers have portrayed the legislation as “anti-police,” while D.C. lawmakers have defended it as important for police accountability.
This story has been updated to include a statement from Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.).