House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., was grilled by CNN on whether President Biden pulled “the rug out” from House progressives when he said he wouldn’t support Washington, D.C.’s revised criminal code, and he suggested the president could reverse his position again.
Biden infuriated some House Democrats on Thursday when he announced he would not veto a bipartisan resolution that would overturn sweeping criminal justice reform legislation passed by the Washington, D.C., Council in November.
CNN’s Dana Bash asked Jeffries on Sunday whether Biden pulled “the rug out from under you and your fellow House Democrats.”
“Not at all,” Jeffries responded. “We have the House, we have the Senate, and then we have the White House. In terms of my particular reasons for voting the way that I did – one, I believe that local government should have control over local matters and that’s a principle that I’ve supported from the moment that I arrived in Washington, D.C. It’s one of the reasons why I believe in D.C. statehood.”
“Right,” Bash replied, “but the Democratic president has signaled that he doesn’t agree with that, and he’s going to sign a Republican bill to override what you just described. Are you OK with that?”
“Well, let’s take it one step at a time,” Jeffries said. “I haven’t had an opportunity to talk to the White House yet about the president’s views, so I’m not going to characterize his position one way or the other until we’ve had a chance to talk about that issue.”
“Well, he said it,” Bash fired back. “I mean, he’s made it clear, unless he changes his tune again.”
“Well, there are public conversations and there are private conversations,” Jeffries said.
The minority leader said regardless of the outcome, Democrats remain united on “the big picture issues.”
Bash still wasn’t convinced, and she pressed Jeffries again.
“OK, you’re the Democratic leader,” she said. “I, obviously, am not. If I’m hearing from frustrated House Democrats, I can’t imagine what you’re hearing. They feel like the White House, again, pulled the rug out from under them. You have to be hearing that.”
“Well, that actually has not been the sense that I’ve gotten,” Jeffries responded. “When we talk about putting people over politics, that is not just a slogan, it’s a way of life for us. It’s what we’ve done.”
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on Friday pushed back on Democratic critics of Biden’s decision not to support Washington, D.C.’s revised criminal code, arguing that a Statement of Administration Policy (SAP) issued by the Executive Office of the President on Feb. 6 specifically opposed to the House resolution disapproving of D.C.’s revised criminal code was not a promise that Biden would veto the legislation.
“The way that it’s laid out speaks to the president supporting D.C. statehood,” Jean-Pierre told reporters. “We never laid out where we, where the president was going to go once that, once it came to his desk because we wanted to allow Congress to move forward in the way that they normally do.”
Reporters at the press briefing seemed confused by the press secretary’s explanation. The policy statement released by the White House states, “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.”
The plain language of the administration’s policy suggested that Biden would oppose a Republican-led effort to overturn D.C.’s criminal code – which was passed by the D.C. Council in January, overriding a veto from Mayor Muriel Bowser. Opponents of the measure in Congress called it a soft-on-crime bill, pointing to reduced criminal penalties for homicides, armed robberies and other violent offenses.
However, Biden shocked pro-criminal justice reform Democrats on Thursday by suddenly announcing he would not veto the congressional resolution to block D.C.’s crime code if it reached his desk.
“I support D.C. Statehood and home-rule – but I don’t support some of the changes D.C. Council put forward over the Mayor’s objections – such as lowering penalties for carjackings,” Biden tweeted Thursday. “If the Senate votes to overturn what D.C. Council did – I’ll sign it.”
House Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., told Fox News on Friday that Biden’s decision was a “great disappointment.”
“I had hoped that perhaps this disapproval resolution on the criminal code would be in line with his usual support for what the district does,” Norton said. She called the president’s announcement “an anomaly,” and said rising crime made it difficult for Democrats to support criminal justice reform.
Fox News’ Chris Pandolfo contributed to this report.