Washington’s crime bill is a disgrace

Washington has experienced a notably deadly start to the year. Already there have been eleven homicides in the city (compared to six at the same stage in 2022). Over the first half of January, motor vehicle theft is up 74 percent on last year — and crime is up 25 percent in total.

It’d be foolish to draw too many clear conclusions from a few weeks of data, but the spate of murders and carjackings make for a striking backdrop to the decision of the DC city council to override a veto from mayor Muriel Bowser and pass a new criminal code that promises to “improve” and “modernize” Washington’s approach to crime.

By “improve” and “modernize” (the words of council member Charles Allen), they mean “soften” and “water down.” Announcing her veto in a letter to the council earlier this month, Bowser said she had “very serious concerns” about some of the bill’s proposals. Among them: the reduction in the maximum penalty for possession of a gun with previous convictions for violent crimes down from fifteen years to four; substantial reductions in penalties for robberies, carjackings and home invasion burglaries; and changes that Bowser says “will prevent charging many persons convicted of felonies under current law — including armed robbery — with possession of a firearm by an unauthorized person.”

The council voted to ignore Bowser by twelve to one, enshrining into law changes that are likely to make the city more dangerous while mouthing platitudes about “improving public safety.”

With the city in the midst of a wave of carjackings and homicides that shows little sign of slowing, it is an outrage, if an unsurprising one, that the lawmakers in the capital are taking this step now. To reiterate one of Bowser’s key complaints: the maximum penalty for a previous violent offender using a gun to commit a violent crime has been slashed to just four years. Meanwhile, the expansion of the use of jury trials for misdemeanor cases will clog up the city’s courts and make it harder for the police to keep the city safe.

It isn’t just the mayor who is worried about the changes. The police union are against the measures, as are senior judges in the District. The Washington Post issued an editorial opposing the changes. In a liberal city, the liberal powers that be think the law is too soft on crime. But the council is undeterred — pushing ahead with measures that will likely make Washington more dangerous at a time when the city’s residents are desperate for it to get safer.

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Biden on the defensive — again

While the facts of the Biden classified documents story are embarrassing enough for the president, he isn’t helped by the dismissive, defensive and dishonest approach his team is taking to the press’s reasonable requests for more information.

Karine Jean-Pierre has been at her uncertain and antagonistic worst in press briefings, insisting that the search for documents was complete when it wasn’t and looking flat-footed when she attempts to dodge questions the White House doesn’t want to answer.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reports that the Justice Department “considered having FBI agents monitor a search by President Biden’s lawyers for classified documents at his homes but decided against it.” Given the parallels being drawn with Donald Trump’s possession of classified documents, the hands-off approach adds to the sense of a double standard at work in the treatment of Biden and Trump. Biden allies have defended the difference by noting the cooperative approach taken by Biden’s lawyers.

But the Journal story suggests the move points to a long and involved investigation into Biden’s documents: “One reason not to involve the FBI at an early stage: the way the Justice Department would preserve the ability to take a tougher line, including executing a future search warrant, if negotiations ever turned hostile, current and former law-enforcement officials said.”

A new low for Santos

A month on from the moment George Santos’s largely invented backstory started to unravel, there is still fresh news about the lies, swindles and cons of the freshman congressman from Long Island. Today’s headlines bring particularly unflattering allegations. Patch reports that a veteran called Richard Osthoff is accusing Santos of stealing $3,000 from his dying dog’s GoFundMe. Osthoff was homeless at the time and turned to a charity Santos claims to have founded to help pay for life-saving surgery for his dog. But after the money was raised, “Friends of Pets United” went quiet and never paid out the funds to Osthoff. Osthoff says he was forced to panhandle to pay to have the dog euthanized and cremated. There’s being a dishonest scumbag and then there’s being the kind of scumbag who steals from a homeless veteran trying to raise money for lifesaving surgery for his dog. Santos calls the story “fake” — something he knows a thing or two about.

What you should be reading today

Kara Kennedy: Has time finally run out for TikTok?
Ben Domenech: Mike Gallagher’s China challenge
John Pietro: Why Sweden and Finland still haven’t joined NATO
Brian Riedl, the Dispatch: How Republicans can get serious on spending
Holman W. Jenkins Jr, Wall Street Journal: ‘Hipster’ antitrust goes Beltway at the FTC
Ankush Khardori, Politico: The Merrick Garland you don’t know

Poll watch

President Biden job approval
Approve: 44.0 percent
Disapprove: 52.3 percent
Net approval: -8.3 (RCP average)

Kamala Harris favorability
Favorable: 37.4 percent
Unfavorable: 52.4 percent
Net favorability: -15 (RCP average)

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