The Republican-led House of Representatives launched the first volley in what could be a long-running dispute with the District of Columbia over home rule in the nation’s capital.

In back-to-back votes, the House voted Thursday to strike down a sweeping rewrite of the penal code passed by the City Council last year and a new law that would give noncitizens the right to vote in local elections.

Congressional oversight of the district is written into the Constitution. And while it’s been more than three decades since Congress completely struck down a DC law, Congress has frequently used alternative methods, such as budget clauses, to change laws on issues ranging from abortion funding to legalizing abortion. dope.

The House voted 250-173 to strike down criminal code reform that, among other things, lowered the maximum penalties for burglary, vehicle theft and robbery. The voting rights bill was also struck down by a vote of 260-173.

The moves may be partially symbolic, as both would have to be approved by the Democratic-controlled Senate and signed by President Joe Biden. However, both House votes garnered a notable amount of Democratic support with 31 Democrats voting to strike down the penal code rewrite and 42 voting to strike down the ballot measure. Biden has publicly said that he opposes both measures, but has not explicitly stated that he would veto them.

Thursday’s votes mark a new and openly combative phase in the District’s tortuous relationship with the federal government.

The debate has put DC Mayor Muriel Bowser in a curious political position. Bowser vetoed the rewrite of the city’s penal code in January, saying maximum penalty reductions send «the wrong message» about crime prevention, Bowser also opposed a measure that would allow jury trials in most misdemeanor cases, saying that the sudden increase in jury trials would overwhelm local police. justice system. His veto was quickly overridden by the DC Council in a 12-1 vote.

Republican lawmakers denounced the DC government as soft on criminals amid a multi-year local spike in violent crime. Several Republican lawmakers have cited Bowser’s opposition to bolster his own arguments.

But Bowser has publicly stated that he does not want Congress to get involved in the process, also citing Congress’s concern as evidence of the validity of his own objections.

“We don’t want any interference in our local laws,” he said last week. “Frankly, members of Congress have expressed similar concerns. There are a lot of people who don’t agree with what the council did.»

New York Rep. Anthony Esposito, a former police officer, accused the DC Council of “empowering criminals at public expense” and said the new penal code would “effectively prevent the local justice system from keeping criminals off our streets, all while DC grapples with a crime wave.»

Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., the top Democrat on the House Oversight and Accountability Committee, and Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, a non-voting delegate from DC to Congress, spent most of the debate morning session of the Chamber playing defense. Norton said the new mandatory minimum sentences will continue to be higher than those for identical offenses in several US states.

Raskin accused House Republicans of ignoring their own public dedication to states’ rights by carrying out a longstanding vendetta against the DC government.

“That’s the beauty of the federal system that I thought our colleagues supported,” Raskin said. “They’re not really interested in looking at actual criminal justice policy. They just want to kick the people out of Washington, DC. They want to lord it over them.»

After the vote, Norton released a statement saying: “DC residents, the majority of whom are black and brown, are dignified and capable of governing themselves. It’s true that Congress has absolute power over DC, but power doesn’t do the right thing.»

The sweeping rewrite of DC’s penal code has been years in the making; It was unanimously approved last year by all 13 DC Council members and has the support of major stakeholders, including DC Attorney General Brian Schwalb.

«Today’s action to strike down our laws is not about making the District safer or fairer,» Schwalb said in a post-vote statement. «Today’s actions are political braggadocio and highlight the urgent need for DC statehood.»

The measure to give non-citizens, including immigrants living in the US illegally, the right to vote in local elections is not unique. Similar measures have been passed in multiple jurisdictions across the country, including Takoma Park, Maryland, a liberal stronghold outside Washington that is Raskin’s home district. But multiple Republican critics said the unique nature of DC with its hundreds of foreign embassies made it particularly inappropriate.

Official estimates put the number of non-citizen DC residents at around 50,000, out of a total population of just under 700,000 residents.

“For years, Democrats in Washington denounced potential foreign influence in our electoral process, but DC’s new law potentially allows foreign agents from China, Russia and other adversaries to participate in local elections held in this nation’s capital,” he said. Rep. Nicholas Langworthy. , RN.Y.

Norton, in a Wednesday night debate on the voting law, called the congressional intervention «paternalistic» and said it violated basic democratic ideals of local self-government.

«There is only one question before this House,» Norton said, «The question is: ‘Do you believe in democracy?'»