Joe Biden's criminal justice regression
We were promised that Biden had progressed on criminal justice issues from his Senate days. Most recent signs suggest that, if he had, he's now going back to his old ways.
On March 2, President Joe Biden announced that he would be the first president in more than 30 years — the first since President George H.W. Bush — to sign legislation overturning an act of the D.C. Council.
Biden said he would do so in support of Republican efforts to overturn D.C. Council’s much-needed and long-negotiated changes to its criminal code, tweeting:
Biden tweeted his announcement before the Senate could even vote on the House resolution. By doing so when he did, Biden — who previously claimed to support both D.C. home rule and criminal justice reform — let loose Senate Democrats to vote against both of those interests.
And, that’s exactly what has happened. By Monday afternoon, CNN’s Manu Raju was reporting that more than 20 Democrats were expected to now vote in favor of rejecting the D.C. act.
Slate’s Mark Jospeh Stern already wrote about “Why Biden Stabbed D.C. in the Back.” Check it out.
Incidentally, Biden also stabbed House Democrats in the back. His administration issued a Statement of Administration Policy (SAP) before the House vote, announcing that they opposed the effort to overturn the D.C. act. Then, after the House members voted with that in mind, Biden said he objected to D.C.’s act and would sign the disapproval resolution.
The administration got it right the first time.
It’s worth noting the excellent argument that the Biden administration of Feb. 6 made against the Biden statement of March 2. From the SAP:
For far too long, the more than 700,000 residents of Washington, D.C. have been deprived of full representation in the U.S. Congress. This taxation without representation and denial of self-governance is an affront to the democratic values on which our Nation was founded. [The disapproval resolutions] are both clear examples of how the District of Columbia continues to be denied true self-governance and why it deserves statehood. While we work towards making Washington, D.C. the 51st state of our Union, Congress should respect the District of Columbia’s autonomy to govern its own local affairs.
So, Biden’s respect for D.C.’s autonomy went out the window.
But, when it comes to Biden’s position on the D.C. criminal code revision, this is about more.
This is about Biden’s long history on these issues and Democrats’ long history of caving on criminal justice the second Republicans try to fear-monger on it.
And yet, looking today, it doesn’t appear that Biden has changed or that Democrats have learned anything.
Biden’s main complaint about the act is false, as Stern has shouted from the rooftops, and most people complaining about the act don’t know what it actually does.
What’s almost worse, broader claims about crime in D.C. aren’t based on facts, as David Menschel pointed out in a thread on Twitter. (Go check it out. I’ll wait.)
And, the bottom-line reality is that Republicans would be fear-mongering around crime in 2024 no matter what Democrats do this year, just as they did in 2022 and 2020 and so on and so on.
Despite a lifetime of chances to learn and after a 2020 campaign of promising that he had changed on criminal justice, Biden appears to be moving backwards — to his old school, “Lock the S.O.B.s Up” roots — for 2024.
It’s not just Biden’s betrayal on the D.C. criminal code revision, either.
There’s also the fact that after campaigning on ending the federal death penalty, the Biden administration is still seeking to put a new person on federal death row, as Law Dork has covered previously.
And, even as D.C. was taking in the news of Biden’s betrayal of his commitment to D.C. statehood, Politico highlighted on Monday that New York City Mayor Eric Adams — the antithesis of progressive criminal justice proposals if there ever were one — would be a key surrogate for the president’s yet-to-be-officially-announced re-election campaign.
I’ve tweeted a lot of anger about this, but, at the end of the day, I’m mainly left with disappointment.
It would be nice if Biden — who is truly at his best when showing his understanding of the human condition when addressing those who have experienced great loss — could learn how to put that brain, heart, and soul to work when he considers the criminal legal system and the undeniable damage that mass incarceration causes.
It would, at least, be a good start.
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