Bipartisan House Vote Dooms DC Bills on Noncitizen Voting, Criminal Code

February 9, 2023 by Dan McCue
Bipartisan House Vote Dooms DC Bills on Noncitizen Voting, Criminal Code
District of Columbia City Hall (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON — The D.C. City Council took a trouncing on the floor of the House Thursday, with the chamber handily approving two resolutions blocking a pair of controversial bills passed by the city council.

The first resolution struck down a D.C. bill that would have allowed noncitizens to vote in local elections; the second blocked a major revision of the city’s outdated criminal code, which hadn’t been significantly updated in more than a century.

Prior to the votes early Thursday, Democratic Whip Katherine Clark, D-Mass., had urged her fellow Democrats to vote against both, saying in an email the resolutions “would undermine the political self-determination of the nearly 700,000 citizens of Washington, D.C. 

“The legislative process in the D.C. Council is deliberate,” Clark said. “Councilmembers must vote to pass legislation twice, with nearly a two-week break in between votes, and the passage of both of these pieces of legislation was nearly unanimous in the council. 

“Nearly all House Democrats have voted in the past in support of D.C.’s right for self-governance, and these bills further undercut the district’s autonomy and ability to legislate on behalf of the constituents that elected them,” she said.

However, that wasn’t enough to prevent 42 Democrats from joining Republicans to reject noncitizen voting, or 31 from joining their GOP counterparts in rejecting the revised criminal code.

The Republicans’ view of the bills was summed up by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who said on the House floor Thursday that the city council bills were so beyond the pale — one would “dilute the vote of American citizens,” he said; the other would “endanger city residents and businesses” — that Congress was compelled to intervene.

House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., went further, saying it was amazing to him that anyone would argue the merits of the bills.

“The fact that in D.C., sexual abuse is up 157% — you would think you’d hear the other side joining us and speaking out against that, not trying to defend laws that make it easier to get criminals out of jail,” he said. “Motor vehicle theft up 88%, total property crime up 31%, homicides increased 22%. 

“We see stories of carjackings every day. And what did the D.C. Council do? They passed a resolution to get rid of mandatory minimums on many violent crimes,” he said.

He then turned his fire on the D.C. voting bill.

“It’s bizarre listening to the debate on the other side that wants to defend the ability for illegals [to vote],” Scalise said. “We went and verified. There’s not even an exception for foreign nationals. So people that work at the Chinese Embassy — we saw how they respect our laws in the United States. They flew a spy balloon over most of the sensitive military bases of our nation last week. Yet, people that work at the Chinese Embassy or Chinese citizens can vote in D.C. elections.”

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., the district’s non-voting representative in Congress, said there is “never justification for Congress nullifying legislation enacted by the district.”

“I can only conclude that the Republican leadership believes D.C. residents, the majority of whom are Black and Brown, are unworthy or incapable of governing themselves,” she said.

But Scalise and his Republican colleagues weren’t hearing it.

“We are exercising our constitutional right to say no to this madness,” the majority whip said. “Let’s restore law and order. Let’s stand up for law and order and the people of the District of Columbia and all the millions of people who come to visit this nation’s capital who don’t want to live in fear, who don’t think that the carjacker should be able to walk scot free if they pull out a gun and put it to somebody’s head to take their car or to break into their house, or to do so many other violent things that are causing fear throughout communities.”

D.C. does enjoy some, limited home rule, but a provision in the Constitution gives Congress oversight over the district’s laws and budgets.

Thursday was the first time since 2015 that a disapproval resolution targeting D.C. legislation has made it to the House floor, though it’s been roughly three decades since Congress has successfully used a disapproval resolution to overturn D.C. legislation; the resolutions must also be approved by the president.

The vote disapproving the D.C. City Council in approving the Local Resident Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2022 was 260-162, with 12 members not voting; the vote disapproving of the revision of the criminal code was 250-173, with 11 members not voting.

Dan can be reached at [email protected] and @DanMcCue

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