Editor’s note: The resolution blocking the police accountability bill was the third time this year the House has moved against a measure passed by Washington D.C. A previous version of this story contained incorrect information.
The House voted on Wednesday to block Washington’s police accountability bill from taking effect, the latest time this year that the chamber moved to thwart legislation in the capital city.
The chamber cleared the disapproval resolution in a 229-189 vote.
Fourteen Democrats voted with Republicans to support the measure: Reps. Nikki Budzinski (Ill.), Angie Craig (Minn.), Henry Cuellar (Texas), Don Davis (N.C.), Jared Golden (Maine), Josh Gottheimer (N.J.), Susie Lee (Nevada), Wiley Nickel (N.C.), Jimmy Panetta (Calif.), Chris Pappas (N.H.), Marie Gluesenkamp Perez (Wash.), Pat Ryan (N.Y.), Kim Schrier (Wash.) and Eric Sorensen (Ill.).
The disapproval resolution now heads to the Senate, where its prospects remain unknown. But even if the chamber clears the measure and sends it to the White House, the Biden administration has said the president would veto the resolution.
The vote came weeks after Congress successfully blocked D.C.’s revised criminal code from taking effect, a move that excited Republicans and split Democrats — some of whom were frustrated by how the process played out.
The disapproval resolutions are part of a strategy by Republicans to put a spotlight on crime in the U.S., a hot-button issue that resonated with voters during the 2022 midterm elections. The votes force Democrats on the record, leading some moderates to vote against the party and allowing GOP lawmakers to dub those who oppose the efforts as being soft on crime.
The legislation on Wednesday targeted a police accountability bill — titled the Comprehensive Policing and Justice Reform Amendment Act — the D.C. Council passed in December. It has not yet taken effect.
The D.C. measure would permanently enact some reforms that the city put in place on a temporary basis following the killing of George Floyd in 2020. For example, it limits police searches based on receiving consent instead of a warrant, restricts the use of nonlethal weapons when trying to mitigate riots, adds civilians to disciplinary review boards, and cements a requirement that videos captured on body cameras are released publicly in the cases of police-involved shootings.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) did not sign or veto the legislation — in the capital city, measures can be enacted without the mayor’s signature. It is projected to become effective next month. But under the District of Columbia Home Rule Act, Congress can disapprove laws passed in the city.
While Bowser did not sign or veto the measure, she and D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) wrote a letter to House and Senate leaders last month opposing the effort by House Republicans to block the policing bill.
Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.) — the sponsor of the disapproval resolution — said his measure is “essential to both increase public safety and combat rising crime in our nation’s capital city.”
He specifically railed against provisions of the D.C. bill that prohibit officers from reviewing their body-camera footage to help with writing initial reports and require the mayor to publicly release the names of officers involved with situations of excessive force, among others.
“The D.C. police force has been depleted to an astonishing half-century low. Undoubtedly, the D.C. council’s misguided legislation has driven out men and women in blue who protect us while disincentivizing individuals to join the force,” Clyde said on the House floor during debate Wednesday.
D.C. Police Chief Robert J. Contee III told lawmakers last month that the department is “currently at the lowest staffing level” in the past 50 years.
“We must be united in supporting [Metropolitan Police Department] officers and restoring law and order in Washington by blocking the D.C. Council’s legislation,” he added.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), who represents D.C. in Congress, called the measure a “profoundly undemocratic, paternalistic resolution” during debate on the House floor Wednesday.
“The House of Representatives, in which the nearly 700,000 District of Columbia residents have no voting representation, is attempting to nullify legislation enacted by D.C.’s local legislature whose members are elected by D.C. residents,” Holmes Norton said. “By scheduling this vote, I can only conclude that the Republican leadership believes that D.C. residents — a majority of whom are Black and brown — are unworthy of governing themselves.”
In a Statement of Administration Policy released on Monday, the Office of Management and Budget said that while Biden “does not support every provision” of the D.C. Council’s bill, “he will not support congressional Republicans’ efforts to overturn commonsense police reforms such as: banning chokeholds; limiting use of force and deadly force; improving access to body-worn camera recordings; and requiring officer training on de-escalation and use of force.”
The administration also paid homage to D.C. Home Rule, which is the idea that D.C. residents have the right to control local affairs.
“Congress should respect the District of Columbia’s right to pass measures that improve public safety and public trust,” the statement reads.
House Republicans brought the policing bill disapproval resolution to the floor after clinching a victory last month on a measure blocking the city’s revised criminal code. The D.C. crime bill would have eliminated most mandatory sentences and lowered penalties for some violent offenses, among other provisions.
The Biden administration in February said it was against the effort to block the capital city’s crime bill, leading 173 House Democrats to oppose the disapproval resolution. It did not, however, issue a veto threat.
But in March, shortly before a vote in the Senate, Biden said he would not veto the disapproval resolution, leading some House Democrats to feel blindsided by the White House’s apparent flip-flop. The Senate ultimately approved the resolution with the support of 33 Democrats and Biden signed it into law, a moment of celebration for Republicans.
Updated at 6:02 p.m.