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Biden vetoes GOP measure to block D.C.’s policing bill

President Biden at the White House on Thursday. (Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post)
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President Biden vetoed a GOP effort to block D.C’s major police accountability legislation Thursday, noting the legislation contained “common-sense” changes aimed at enhancing public trust.

“The Congress should respect the District of Columbia’s right to pass measures that improve public safety and public trust,” the president said in a message to Congress accompanying his veto. “I continue to call on the Congress to pass common-sense police reform legislation. Therefore, I am vetoing this resolution.”

Biden’s veto came on the third anniversary of the police killing of George Floyd, which sparked nationwide protests and reexamination of policing and use of force — including in the District.

D.C.’s Comprehensive Policing and Justice Reform Amendment Act of 2022 was crafted after the Floyd killing, and it included provisions restricting certain policing tactics and expanding access to police disciplinary records and body-camera footage, among many others. The bill had faced head winds in Congress, where Republicans sought to frame the police accountability bill as “anti-police” and sought to use constitutional authority to block it from becoming law.

But the GOP effort faltered after Biden signaled last month that he would veto the measure — called a disapproval resolution — if it reached his desk. The resolution passed the House, with 14 Democrats joining Republicans, in April and passed the Senate last week with the support of eight Democrats and independents. House Republicans could still seek to override Biden’s veto, but without broader support in both chambers, Biden’s veto is probably the end of the road for the congressional effort to block the bill.

Biden said that while he did not support “every provision” in the D.C. policing bill, “this resolution from congressional Republicans would overturn common-sense police reforms.”

Biden listed among those changes a provision banning neck restraints, limiting use of force, expanding de-escalation training and requiring the release of body-cam footage after incidents of excessive force.

“Almost 700,000 people live in the nation’s capital, and they are worthy and capable of governing their own local affairs," Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), said in a statement. “Congressional Republicans disagree, believing instead that D.C. residents, a majority of whom are Black and Brown, are incapable and unworthy of the same respect afforded to residents of their own districts, but today’s historic veto demonstrates that widespread support of D.C. residents’ right to govern their own affairs exists at the highest levels.”

The D.C. policing legislation had been in effect on a temporary or emergency basis since 2020, in the months after a Minneapolis police officer pinned Floyd at the neck as other officers watched. In April 2021, a commission issued a sweeping 250-page report suggesting proposals to overhaul D.C. policing practices in areas including discipline, tactics and public access to records and videos of police who use deadly force, a number of which were included in the final form of the legislation.

Reacting to Biden’s veto, Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio), who led the Senate effort to nullify the policing legislation, called Biden’s veto “a shame.”

“With today’s veto, President Biden rejected a bipartisan and common-sense effort to make our nation’s capital safer,” Vance said in a statement. “The millions of Americans who visit Washington and the brave men and women of the D.C. police deserve far better.”

Biden’s veto follows a successful congressional effort to block D.C.’s criminal code revision. Biden signed that disapproval resolution, angering local statehood advocates, namely considering the Biden administration previously said it opposed the resolution. This time around, D.C. statehood advocates thanked Biden for standing with the District.

“DC Vote and the DC Statehood community thanks President Biden for standing up for the District’s autonomy this time and vetoing this latest attack,” Patrice Snow, DC Vote’s communications director, said in a statement. “We urge the House and Senate to uphold the veto and stop with the political games at the expense of DC’s equality.”

This story has been updated with reaction from Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.).