WASHINGTON — As congressional midterms approach, President Joe Biden and Democratic candidates across the country are seeking to soften Republican attacksechoed in the conservative media, that they have not focused on the issue of crime.
Rising crime rates continue to be a conundrum for elected leaders, law enforcement officials and prosecutors across the country, in both Republican and Democratic jurisdictions. The rise in violent crime that began around the start of the coronavirus pandemic has become a seemingly intractable problem, even as institutions like schools have reopened.
Speaking in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., on Tuesday, President Biden backed his crime-fighting proposal, underscoring his long-standing support for police officers, but also arguing that to be effective, police officers need better training and deeper connections with the communities they serve. He also called for stricter gun control laws.
Public safety has emerged as a top concern according to polls and could pose challenges in November as Democrats campaign furiously to retain control of Congress. Biden plans to campaign with many of them in the coming weeks, returning to his native Pennsylvania twice more in the coming days: to deliver a State of the Republic address Thursday in Philadelphia and to mark Labor Day in Pittsburgh on Monday.
In the Wilkes-Barre speech, the president also attacked Republicans who claim to support law enforcement but have worked to discredit a congressional investigation into the Jan. 6, 2021 riot at the U.S. Capitol, in which supporters of then President Donald Trump attacked members of the Capitol Police.
“Let me say this to my MAGA Republican friends in Congress,” Biden said, using what has become his favorite shorthand for the GOP. “Don’t tell me you support law enforcement if you don’t condemn what happened on the 6th. You can’t. For God’s sake, whose side are you on?’
Some particularly ardent Trump supporters have called for defunding the FBI after a search warrant was executed at the former president’s South Florida home earlier this month. Such calls have confused more conservatives. “Crime has been a winning issue for Republicans, and they need to be careful not to jeopardize that,” Republican strategist Alex Conant told Axios.
Biden had intended to give a speech in Wilkes-Barre earlier this month, but was prevented from doing so after testing positive for COVID-19.
His crime-fighting proposal, unveiled in late July, is called the Safe America Plan. Tethered to next fiscal year’s budget, it is devoting $37 billion to hiring 100,000 police officers and improving the training they receive. funding community anti-violence programs; clearing court backlogs; and increasing funding for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, which now has its first Senate-confirmed director in seven years.
Republicans, meanwhile, have even used the defund attack against Democratic lawmakers like Rep. Abigail Spanberger of Virginia, a former CIA officer who is an outspoken critic of that movement and has, in fact, introduced a funding measure of the police in Spiti. And some conservative commentators have wrongly argued that Biden’s efforts to improve the state of policing are little more than efforts to slyly implement his defunding agenda.
An architect of the 1994 crime law, Biden today finds himself caught between a progressive base that favors ideas like parole and ending cash bail and a Republican Party that sees any concessions on criminal justice reform as Democrats’ reluctance to face crime as their own problem. construction.
Biden’s public safety plan calls for $15 billion to be allocated in state grants to further “criminal justice reforms, such as eliminating mandatory minimums for non-violent crimes.” While advocates have argued that such initiatives are both fair and effective, Republicans have resisted reform proposals, even though some in the GOP have supported criminal justice reforms enacted by the Trump administration.
“We can talk about infrastructure, education, low taxes. None of that will amount to much if you don’t have safe communities,” said Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, one of the Republican Party’s top warriors. he said on Tuesday. “We should be more concerned with helping the victims of crime than appeasing the perpetrators of crime.”
Accusations that Democrats don’t sympathize with crime victims are, in the clearest terms, disingenuous. Earlier this month, President Biden signed a bill that created a process for families of homicide victims to push for the reopening of cold shelters. The bill was introduced by Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the Senate Republican leader.
And as Biden pointed out in Pennsylvania, public safety is a matter of racial and economic justice, as poor communities and communities of color suffer disproportionately from violent crime. “The communities, by the way, that want the police more than any other community are the tough, poor communities,” the president said. “Blacks, whites, immigrants. They need help. They want the help.”
However, high-profile crimes, and the media coverage they inevitably attract, understandably arouse public concern. Over the weekend, Washington running back Brian Robinson Jr. was shot during an attempted carjacking as he left a bar on the popular H Street area, a few blocks from the White House. The injuries were not life-threatening.
Knowing how strong the issue of public safety is likely to remain, Democratic congressional candidates in the key battleground states of Wisconsin and Pennsylvania have released television ads highlighting their own crime-fighting proposals.
“We did what it took to fund our police and stop gun deaths for five years,” John Fetterman, a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania, said in an ad released Tuesday. The current lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania, Fetterman is the former mayor of Braddock, a gritty town outside Pittsburgh. The ad criticizes his opponent, the famous Dr. Mehmet Oz, who Fetterman says “wouldn’t last two hours here in Braddock.”
In Wisconsin, Lt. Gov. and Senate candidate Mandela Barnes tried to fend off attacks that he is a “defunding ally.” He has also been accused of overspending on his security detail.
“I will make sure our police have the resources and training they need to keep our community safe and that our communities have the resources to stop crime,” Barnes says in his new ad. He calls accusations that he favors defunding the police and abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement “lies.”
The crime debate is closely tied to the gun control debate. If crime is one of the main concerns, gun violence is another. And since guns are used in the vast majority of violent crimes, the two issues are obviously and inextricably linked.
Earlier this summer, Biden signed a slew of gun control measures. In Wilkes-Barre, he vowed to do more. “I am determined to ban assault weapons in this country,” he said, mocking Second Amendment absolutists who say such restrictions would violate their constitutional rights.
“And for those brave right-wing Americans who say it’s all about keeping America free and safe,” he said. “If you want to fight against the country, you need an F-15. You need more than a gun.”