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House keeps crime in focus at oversight hearing with DC Mayor Bowser

Republicans continue to scrutinize the nation’s capital, while Democrats say there are more pressing issues to tackle.

WASHINGTON (CN) — House Republicans had the opportunity Tuesday to air their ongoing grievances about Washington criminal prosecutions directly to top city officials, a chance that some lawmakers leapt at while others chose a more measured approach.

In the nearly six months the GOP has held control of Congress’ lower chamber, they have been on the warpath against the capital city, painting it as unsafe for both residents and visitors. Lawmakers have on more than one occasion used their administrative power over Washington, D.C., to roll back municipal legislation.

Republicans’ scrutiny of the district continued Tuesday morning during a hearing of the House Committee on Oversight at which Mayor Muriel Bowser was invited to testify. It’s the second such event the oversight panel has held recently, coming just weeks after lawmakers grilled D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson on a municipal policing reform bill.

Committee chair, Kentucky Congressman Jim Comer, retained that theme at Tuesday’s hearing, expressing concern about what he said was a lack of resources for D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department and few criminal prosecutions from the city’s U.S. Attorney’s Office.

“The D.C. Council’s continued attempts to push soft-on-crime legislation and policies are emboldening criminals,” Comer said. In a credit to Mayor Bowser — an uncommon concession for the Republican who has been fiercely criminal of D.C.’s leadership — he praised her for opposing the Council measures that Congress has been working to halt.

Bowser, testifying before the oversight committee, acknowledged that crime rates, including gun crimes and carjackings, had increased in Washington, adding the caveat that the nation’s capital is experiencing a similar trend to other cities nationwide.

Despite that, the mayor explained that she was already stepping in.

“I won’t be making any excuses here,” Bowser said. “I’m the mayor, and I’m responsible for making this very complicated, unique system work for my residents, businesses and all Americans.

The mayor’s office has authorized D.C. Police Chief Robert Contee to use all of the overtime he needs within the department to up enforcement and has taken action to strengthen regional and federal law enforcement partnerships, Bowser said.

Bowser also touted a package of bills unveiled Monday that she said would raise criminal penalties for some violent crimes and give D.C. courts more authority to hold accused perpetrators pretrial — a move hailed by Comer, who said that he met with Bowser last week about the district's crime enforcement.

“I know from talking to Mayor Bowser that she agrees that tackling the issue of crime is a priority for her residents,” the Kentucky Republican said, adding that the oversight committee was open to working with the mayor’s office on that issue.

Not all of the panel’s Republican membership maintained such cordial interactions with Bowser and the other D.C. officials on the witness panel.

Georgia Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene dialed in on the district's U.S. attorney, Matthew Graves, arguing that he had prioritized prosecuting cases related to the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection over other crimes in the city.

“The time for weaponizing the Department of Justice needs to come to an end,” said Greene, who has been an ardent defender of individuals arrested at the Capitol during the riot aimed at overturning the results of the 2020 presidential election — a violent uprising that led to the deaths of five people. “You refuse to prosecute real criminals that are violating all the crimes here in Washington, D.C.”

The Georgia Republican said she was introducing a measure to impeach Graves.

During a particularly terse exchange, Louisiana Congressman Clay Higgins suggested that D.C. residents have more intimate access to lawmakers than people who live in other parts of the country.

“Is there any other city in the country,” Higgins said, “where you are going to bump into, potentially, hundreds of congressmen and hundreds of senators in any given restaurant or any grocery store? Is there any other municipality in the country that offers that level of personal access to the seat of government of these United States?"

Bowser's retorted brought the normally stoic hearing audience into a round of applause.

“I have never been to an event where I happened to bump into a hundred senators,” she said.

“Congratulations on not bumping into a hundred senators at one time,” responded Higgins after Comer regained order in the room. “That would be horrific.”

Bowser took the Louisiana congressman’s argument one step further, arguing that, rather than D.C. residents exerting undue influence on lawmakers, the federal government has overstepped its authority over the nation’s capital.

“We saw it,” the mayor said, referencing the recent congressional moves to overturn D.C. law. “We witnessed the federal government trample on our autonomy and our safety.”

Democrats on the oversight committee, meanwhile, accused Republicans of using the capital city as a fig leaf to avoid addressing more pressing issues facing the country.

“This is part of an effort to deny Americans who live in Washington the right to participate in representative government,” said Maryland Congressman Jamie Raskin, “and then blame them for their own disenfranchisement and lack of representation in Congress.”

Just hours after the oversight committee’s hearing ended, the Senate voted 56-43 to pass a measure from Ohio Republican J.D. Vance, striking down a package of municipal police reforms approved by the D.C. Council in January. It’s the second such action taken by lawmakers — both houses of Congress in March scuttled a separate law that would have decreased criminal penalties for certain violent offenses.

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Categories / Criminal, Government, Politics, Regional

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