Sens. Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen both support statehood for Washington, D.C., arguing that it is unjust to deny District of Columbia residents the right to govern themselves.
But on Wednesday, both Democrats backed a GOP measure overriding the D.C. city council’s reforms of the criminal code. They were hardly alone. The vote passed 81-14, with one Democrat (Sen. Raphael Warnock of Georgia) voting “present.” All 14 “no” votes were cast by Democrats.
One of those Democrats was Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) who accused senators who voted to stop D.C. from passing its own legislation of being “patronizing and paternalistic.”
“I have never seen something like this in my 10 years,” Booker said.
Under the Home Rule Act, all District laws must be transmitted to Congress for a layover period during which, if a majority of each house of Congress votes to do so, and the president signs the measure, the bill in question will be overturned. That hasn’t happened since 1991.
Protesters gathered outside the Capitol to express their anger as the vote approached. “Keep your hands off D.C.,” Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton said. “You either support D.C. home rule or you don’t. There are no exceptions. And there is no middle ground on D.C.’s right to self-government.”
Hassan and Shaheen appear to disagree, though neither released a statement after casting their vote Wednesday nor responded to requests for comment.
President Joe Biden, who originally criticized Republicans for proposing legislation overriding District government, reversed his position and announced he will sign the GOP resolution. And like Hassan and Shaheen, he claims to support self-government for D.C.
“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. “If the Senate votes to overturn what D.C. Council did – I’ll sign it.”
Republicans said it was a sign Democrats know they have a crime problem.
“Led by the president, the Democrats are in full retreat on the D.C. criminal law issue,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) called out her fellow Democrats for betraying the people of the District.
“We should be supporting the autonomy of the citizens of D.C.,” Warren said. And she denounced the vote as “a way of just showing who has power around here and that Congress can stomp on” D.C. residents.
Patrice Snow, a spokesperson for the advocacy organization DC Vote, also denounced Democrats who voted for the GOP proposal. “President Biden gave this beautiful speech in September about our democracy and [the] future of our democracy, yet he’s not heeding his own words,” Snow said. “We should be able — as majority black and brown city, to determine our own destiny, good or bad. It’s very paternalistic.”
While progressives are expressing their anger at Hassan and Shaheen, the two are actually being consistent in their support for expanded federal power overriding local control. They both support federal election laws that would force New Hampshire to change state law, allowing early voting and counting late-arriving ballots, as well as overruling voter I.D. laws.
And they both oppose allowing states to pass their own abortion laws, supporting a federal law that would override New Hampshire’s ban on late-term abortion.