President Joe Biden is trying to turn Republican arguments about Democrats and crime against them in the hope of winning a spending fight this year and an election next year.
But Republicans dispute Biden’s counterclaims that they are the ones who would like to “defund the police” as budget and debt ceiling talks escalate before a summer deadline with far-reaching economic ramifications.
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Biden is “top-tier gaslighting” the public after the president “filled his administration with radical ‘defund the police’ supporters from top to bottom,” according to Republican strategists.
“Across the country, Democrat-run cities continue to advocate for defunding the police and have followed through by slashing money from police budgets,” Republican National Committee spokeswoman Emma Vaughn told the Washington Examiner. “Americans know that Democrats are to blame for the rise in violent crime.”
Vaughn also forwarded a “helpful” RNC video titled “Nine Minutes of Democrats Calling for Defunding the Police.”
Biden distanced himself from more liberal Democrats and their “defund the police” movement during his State of the Union address last year, instead asking Congress for increased money for police training, among other ideas, according to University of Wisconsin-Madison Elections Research Center Director Barry Burden.
“That is a rather different position from prominent progressives in his party who want [to] redirect police funding to social services and other initiatives,” he said.
Biden was not as direct during this year’s address, delivered with Tyre Nichols’s parents, RowVaughn and Rodney Wells, in the House chamber. Nichols, a black man, was beaten to death by five black former Memphis, Tennessee, police officers in January.
“Although it might alarm some in his party, standing behind policing will make it difficult in the 2024 presidential campaign for Republicans to cast Biden as an irresponsible liberal who does not care about crime,” Burden said. “Republicans will continue to blame Biden for violent criminal activity, but that approach did not appear to net the party much in the 2022 midterm elections when it ran up against the abortion issue.”
Sitting and former Republican governors, particularly those who announce they are running for president, may be able to undercut Biden and Democrats on crime as they can cite their state’s respective policies, he added.
Middlebury College political science professor Bertram Johnson disagreed, though he did note that Biden is deploying the “the best defense is a good offense” tactic.
“Although Democrats may have some success in highlighting the negative effects of budget cuts in general, it will be tough to convince voters that Democrats support police more than Republicans do,” he said. “It would be as if Republicans claimed that Democrats were defunding Social Security and Medicare — not impossible to imagine but implausible to most people.”
In a memo to reporters Wednesday, White House spokesman Andrew Bates contended that the House Freedom Caucus is seeking to “defund the police by cutting 20% of federal funding for law enforcement, assuming their proposed cuts are spread evenly.” The House Freedom Caucus circulated its budget demands last week.
“It also aims to reverse the Biden administration’s commonsense step to more strictly regulate stabilizing braces attached to pistols — the weapon of choice for mass shooters in Boulder and Dayton,” Bates wrote. “This also comes as a slew of MAGA congressional Republicans advocate for abolishing the FBI and the ATF — the first people to respond to a mass shooting after state and local police.”
Biden underscored his budget in Monterey Park, California, this week during remarks about his new gun control executive order, which, among other actions, will ensure gun dealers are conducting the proper background checks. A gunman killed 11 people at a Monterey Park dance studio in January.
“Last week, I laid out in my budget that we invest more in safer communities and expand access to mental health services for those affected by gun violence,” he said Tuesday. “Congressional Republicans should pass my budget instead of calling for cuts to these services or defunding the police or abolishing the FBI, as we hear from our MAGA Republican friends.”
Biden debuted the “defund the police” spin amid his budget and debt ceiling posturing with Republicans in Philadelphia last week during a speech about his budget, though some reporters thought he misspoke.
“MAGA Republicans are calling for defunding the police departments and defunding the FBI now,” he said. “That’s a good one. I like that one. … My budget invests in public safety. It includes funding for more training, more support for law enforcement at a time when they’re expected to play many roles.”
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“We’re going to provide 100,000 more community policing officers nationwide and invest in tens of thousands more school nurses and school counselors and mental health help,” he went on. “We’re going to save communities billions of dollars over time.”
The White House argued in 2021 that Republicans had tried to defund the police by voting against the American Rescue Plan Act, which allocated more than $350 billion in emergency money for state, county, city, and tribal governments to avoid, for instance, officer layoffs because of the pandemic. Biden’s aides have also dinged Republicans who endorsed former President Donald Trump’s 2021 budget, which recommended dismantling the Department of Justice’s Community Relations Services and Community Oriented Policing Services.