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Republicans on House panel tee off on crime in DC

Lawmakers blame Democratic policies they say are soft on crime

Capitol Police Chief J. Thomas Manger, left, speaks with Chairman Bryan Steil, R-Wisc., before the start of the House Administration Committee hearing Thursday.
Capitol Police Chief J. Thomas Manger, left, speaks with Chairman Bryan Steil, R-Wisc., before the start of the House Administration Committee hearing Thursday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Republicans on the House Administration Committee used a hearing Thursday to express deep concern about their safety in the District of Columbia and outrage about the way in which the City Council is faltering in mitigating crime near the Capitol complex.

“Every week that I get on a plane and I fly to D.C., my husband wonders if something is going to happen to me while I’m here,” Rep. Stephanie Bice, R-Okla., said.

GOP members were highly critical of the D.C. government and Democratic policies they say are soft on crime, at a hearing about how crime is affecting congressional operations.

Members lambasted the D.C. Council, particularly Councilman Charles Allen, who represents Ward 6, which includes Capitol Hill and surrounding areas.

Chairman Bryan Steil, R-Wis., said Allen declined an invitation to testify at the hearing. “In Ward 6 specifically, which includes the U.S. Capitol, there have been over 150 robberies in the past six months and 350 vehicles stolen,” Steil said.

Murders in D.C. for 2023 jumped 35 percent, violent crime went up 39 percent, car thefts rose 82 percent and overall crime was up 26 percent, according to statistics from D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department.

And crime in D.C. has affected members of Congress, such as Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, who was carjacked, and Rep. Angie Craig, D-Minn., who was assaulted in her apartment building.

Steil focused on a part of the D.C. code that considers people up to 24 years of age as a youth offender — and thus subject to lighter punishments — with exceptions for certain crimes like murder and sexual abuse.

“So an officer would have risked their life to try to apprehend a dangerous criminal in this case, maybe a 24-year-old who carjacked someone with a gun, only to find out that this individual is treated as a youth in our nation’s capital with limited consequences and can find themselves back out on the street in short order to commit another crime,” Steil said.

MPD Union head Greggory Pemberton testified that the D.C. Council’s lack of support for police has led to officers leaving the department and a low morale. He said the council “does not like police officers.”

Rep. Greg Murphy, R-N.C., said he was incensed by what he said was the lack of action on the part of the D.C. Council. He asked whether the committee could subpoena councilmembers. Steil said they had that authority.

“This is infuriating. It’s absolutely infuriating,” Murphy said. “We’re allowing a city council to let havoc be wreaked in this town because they don’t like law enforcement.”

Murphy said there were several shootings near a condo he had in D.C. and he didn’t feel his wife could take their dog outside for a walk safely, an issue he pinned squarely on the D.C. Council.

Rep. Anthony D’Esposito, R-N.Y., a former New York Police Department detective, said Democrats shoulder the blame for the crime issue.

“This is actually, in fact, partisan, because Democrats and their legislation has created this issue, whether it’s here in Washington, D.C., in our nation’s capital or if it’s home in New York,” D’Esposito said. “They have passed and promoted pro-criminal, anti-law enforcement legislation that has led us to this situation.”

Ranking member Joseph D. Morelle, D-N.Y., the only Democrat present at the hearing, said he agrees there should be more resources for law enforcement and that he believes there should be zero tolerance for crime in general, but noted that prevalence of guns in the country must be considered as well.

“But it is impossible to look at the crime problem in the United States without looking at gun safety measures that are common sense. We have 400 million guns in the United States today,” Morelle said.

Morelle added that it was “irresponsible” for people to suggest that the only problem is Democratic leadership in urban cities.

A spokesperson for Allen, Erik Salmi, said the councilman declined to appear along with MPD and Brian Schwalb, the attorney general for D.C.

Allen, through the spokesperson, said Capitol Police Chief J. Thomas Manger is “best positioned to discuss the important work of keeping members of Congress safe and the US Capitol complex secure.”

The spokesperson went on to say that Allen wants to see the House “actively take an interest in the areas of public safety for which it’s responsible, as DC’s criminal justice system is the only one that is divided between local and federal government and remains needlessly complex.”

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