It was a long time coming, but President Joe Biden’s “Sister Souljah” moment has finally arrived. The president deserves kudos for saying he will sign a Republican-led resolution blocking a Washington, D.C. crime bill that would lower penalties for (among other things) carjacking and illegal possession of a firearm.
Make no mistake: Although Biden’s decision is both substantively and morally right, it is still a brave move. Biden, who has generally gone out of his way to avoid offending his party’s woke left flank, now finds himself in the line of fire at the exact moment when he seemed to have (mostly) quelled talk of a 2024 primary challenge.
“The White House f***** this up royally,” one House Democrat told The Hill, adding, “F–KING AMATEUR HOUR. HEADS SHOULD ROLL OVER AT THE WHITE HOUSE OVER THIS.” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez also criticized Biden’s decision: “DC has a right to govern itself, like any other state or municipality,” AOC tweeted. “If the President supports DC statehood, he should govern like it. Plenty of places pass laws the President may disagree with. He should respect the people’s gov of DC just as he does elsewhere.”
When you consider that a few years ago, AOC implied Nancy Pelosi had racist motives when criticizing her and “the Squad,” you get the sense for how overriding the D.C. city council could result in similar escalating attacks on Biden.
Still, regardless of the risks involved, Biden is wise to make this a rare point of departure from left-wing pressure.
First, Biden has plenty of cover—D.C.’s Democratic Mayor Muriel Bowser opposes the bill, and 31 House Democrats voted last month against the soft-on-crime bill, as well.
Second, the crime issue is salient. Look no further than Lori Lightfoot, who this week became the first Chicago mayor in four decades to lose re-election—and as the Associated Press noted prior to her loss, “…concerns about crime have dominated Tuesday’s mayoral election.”
Third, there is no disputing that crime is on the rise in our nation’s capital.
A couple of years ago, while I was on CNN, my driver narrowly averted being carjacked in front of the studio. Just last month, Rep. Angie Craig was attacked inside the elevator of her D.C. apartment building.
These are anecdotes, but the visceral sense that the wheels are coming off in our nation’s capital is backed by data: The Washington Post reports that D.C.’s homicide rate is up 40 percent over last year, and the Wall Street Journal notes that D.C. has seen a “109 percent increase in auto theft, according to local police data.”
In the wake of demonstrably increasing crime rates, which invariably harm the poorest communities most, the D.C. city council chose this moment to pass this bill? And the vote wasn’t even close. When D.C.’s mayor vetoed the legislation, the council voted 12-1 to override it.
Young people today probably don’t appreciate the psychological damage that comes from a sense that crime is out of control, or that “bleeding-heart liberal” politicians contribute to the problem by preventing law enforcement from taking (and keeping) criminals off our streets. For this reason, rising crime rates tend to redound to the advantage of Republicans, and their appeals for law-and-order.
Back in 2021, I warned Biden and Democrats that they “simply cannot allow a narrative to take hold that they let their guard down” on the violent crime issue. Avoiding this fate, I said, meant “re-committing to a style of politics that cares more about the victims and regular Americans than it does about coddling criminals.”
Maybe he is finally listening. There aren’t a ton of things a president can do to address violent crime in our cities. Because of the unique relationship between the city of Washington, D.C., and the U.S. government, this is one of the rare opportunities he will have to clearly demonstrate sanity on the issue.
Biden is also blessed to have a unique circumstance in American politics today: For most modern-day politicians, the primary is more dangerous and competitive than the general election.
This creates a perverse incentive where the smart move is to cave in to the extremes in your tribe. By standing up against this progressive soft-on-crime bill, at the risk of offending people who consider D.C. statehood one of the civil rights issues of our time, Biden is doing the opposite.
The president is instead focused on a “Biden coalition” in Pennsylvania or Michigan who thinks Trump is a fool, but also worries about the radical left’s proposed policies, such as the “Defund the Police” debacle.
And I think Biden’s strategy is smart. The odds of him losing the 2024 general election are certainly higher at this point than the odds that he will be defeated in a primary.
Biden made the right choice on the merits—and the smart choice in terms of politics. It’s the kind of “triangulation” that Bill Clinton would have employed.
Indeed, I would argue that Biden’s gambit makes it even less likely that he will face a viable Democratic primary challenge. That’s because his entire raison d’être is premised on being the one Democrat in America who can hold his own in middle America—and defeat Donald Trump. Supporting this GOP-led resolution against D.C.’s soft-on-crime crime bill only increases those odds.