House Republicans paint DC as hellish in move to strike another city bill
Hearing follows assaults on Rep. Angie Craig and a staffer for Sen. Rand Paul
Congressional Republicans took aim Wednesday at the District of Columbia City Council, the city’s public schools, its surging crime and alleged mismanagement in City Hall as they advanced a resolution seeking to overturn a council vote for the second time in a month.
In a quarrelsome House Oversight and Accountability Committee hearing titled “Overdue Oversight of the Capital City: Part 1,” Republicans such as Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene described Washington as an urban hellscape where criminals “run rampant” and schools do more to produce criminals than to teach math or reading.
“You’ve got some crappy schools,” Rep. Gary Palmer, R-Ala., told the panel’s witnesses, who included D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson, Councilmember Charles Allen, Washington Chief Financial Officer Glen Lee and D.C. Police Union Chairman Greggory Pemberton. “Your schools are not only dropout factories, they’re inmate factories.”
An increase in some violent and property crime has put the district under a microscope.
Rep. Angie Craig, D-Minn., was assaulted in the elevator of her H Street apartment building in February before fighting off her assailant. Last week, a staffer for Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., was stabbed in the head on H Street by a man who was released from prison the day before. That staffer, Phillip Todd, is in stable condition and is expected to make a full recovery, but the attack was evidence to Republicans of deteriorating conditions in the nation’s capital.
“D.C.’s officials have not carried out their responsibility to serve its citizens. Therefore our committee must fulfill its responsibility to conduct oversight of the District of Columbia,” Oversight Chairman James R. Comer said in his introductory remarks.
He cited statistics that paint a damning portrait: Carjackings are up 105 percent since last year, property crime is up 28 percent and homicides are up 37 percent since 2019; D.C. ranked low in high school graduation rates and over 40 percent of students decline to seek advanced education, he said.
But Democrats, and D.C. Council Chair Mendelson, countered that crime is actually significantly lower than historic highs in the 1990s and early 2000s. Mendelson described a thriving city with a vibrant arts scene, strong public schools, and throngs of tourists visiting every year.
Further, Democrats questioned the premise of the hearing and sought to focus the conversation more on statehood for D.C.
“Let these people have their equal rights. Let them have their democracy,” Oversight ranking member Jamie Raskin, D-Md., said.
Raskin described Republicans’ position as “hysterical, anti-crime rhetoric.” And Makia Green, an organizer with the Hands Off DC coalition, which organized a group of protesters who marched to the meeting, said Republicans were playing up crime in the city to score political points.
“What's happening is these people who do not know us, who don't vote here, who don't live here, they're using this language to confuse people and using fear to gain clout,” Green said ahead of the hearing.
The hearing preceded a markup of a disapproval resolution introduced earlier this month by Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Ga., that would reverse a police reform bill passed by the D.C. Council. The committee advanced the resolution on a 21-17 party-line vote.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., called the resolution “profoundly undemocratic, paternalistic legislation.”
Under the District of Columbia Home Rule Act of 1973, Congress has final say over bills passed by the D.C. Council and controls the D.C. budget. That hadn’t been invoked in more than 30 years until lawmakers passed a disapproval resolution that overturned a D.C. bill that would’ve overhauled the city’s criminal code, which Biden signed March 21.
The police reform bill taken up by the Oversight Committee originated in the aftermath of the 2020 killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. While distinct from the criminal code overhaul, it is similarly pernicious, Republicans argued.
Comer said it would make life more difficult for officers in the District’s Metropolitan Police Department, which is already dealing with morale issues as more than 1,000 officers have left the force in the last three years. Pemberton, the police union chair, said the measure would make it more difficult to attract and retain officers.
But Mendelson argued the measure would put in place commonsense rule changes that would keep residents safe by creating a Use of Force Review Board, enhancing the District’s auditing capabilities, strengthening training requirements and prohibiting the hiring of officers with a history of misconduct, according to Mendelson.
“Contrary to what some would say, this legislation is not an attack on police or federal public safety. Rather, it promotes police accountability,” Mendelson said.
Suzanne Monyak contributed to this report.