House Democratic Caucus Chair Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) on Wednesday said the White House’s communication on the disapproval resolution for Washington, D.C.’s crime bill “could’ve been better.”
The comments from Aguilar, the No. 3 House Democrat, come roughly one week after Biden said he would sign the GOP-led measure to block the District’s revised criminal code, an announcement that surprised and angered some House Democrats after the administration initially said it was opposed to the resolution.
The Senate is expected to pass the measure with bipartisan support on Wednesday, officially sending it to Biden’s desk.
“I think that the communication could’ve been better from down the street at Pennsylvania [Avenue],” Aguilar told reporters during a press conference in the Capitol. “I’ve said that I was disappointed, that holds true.”
The House last month passed a resolution to block D.C.’s revised criminal code which would, in part, eliminate most mandatory sentences and lower penalties for a number of violent offenses, including carjackings and robberies. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) vetoed the measure when it reached her desk, but the D.C. City Council overturned her veto.
A total of 173 House Democrats voted against the Republican measure to block that D.C. code revision, a position that they thought aligned with the Biden administration, which released a Statement of Administration Policy days earlier saying it opposed the measure.
But last week, Biden announced that he would sign the resolution should it land on his desk, sending shockwaves through the Capitol. The president in a tweet expressed concerns about the provision that would lower penalties for carjackings.
A number of House Democrats, including Aguilar, expressed disappointment with Biden’s decision in the immediate aftermath.
The caucus chair on Wednesday defended his vote against the resolution, pointing to D.C.’s home rule.
“Many of us supported, many of us have taken a position that home rule is important,” Aguilar said. “There’s a lot of former mayors and former city council members that populate our side of the aisle and have long held [and] believe that the residents of Washington, D.C., deserve the opportunity to be represented. We support Washington, D.C. being a state, but from a home rule perspective we’ll want to respect their right. So, you know, we made that vote with that in mind.”
Asked about House Democrats’ relationship with the White House — in light of the D.C. crime bill controversy and frustrations some members expressed on Monday after a report indicated that Biden is considering returning to holding migrant families in detention — Aguilar said it remains strong while noting that “better communication” is always possible.
“I appreciate the desire to want to chip away at what has been a very unified relationship with the White House. I think that there can always — just like in any office, in any household — there could always be better communication. That is our message. We look forward to working with our colleagues,” Aguilar said.
“Where there are times where we need to have, you know, offline conversations to work to ensure that the communication is better, we’re gonna do that. Having honest conversations is exactly what we do with our friends and allies,” he later added.