Biden’s pro-police pivot
by Katherine Doyle, White House Correspondent August 12, 2021
In a bid to hold on to voters, President Joe Biden is waging a fight against rising crime by touting increased police funding while staying mum on reform efforts that have stalled in the Senate.
Upon taking office, Biden mentioned police reform, George Floyd, and the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act more than two dozen times. But he has spoken little on the issue this last month, according to an analysis by USA Today.
“Biden has been around long enough to recognize the indicators that he’s seeing on a national level with the uptick in violent crime,” said Brian Marvel, president of the Peace Officers Research Association, a prominent California law enforcement group. “He realizes that irrespective of your political party or your beliefs, everybody wants to be safe. Everybody wants to be able to walk to the store unmolested or walk to school and not have to worry about being shot or killed.”
Central to Biden’s crime strategy is a crackdown on firearms. In a June 23 speech at the White House, the president detailed his plan to “stem the flow of guns into the hands of those responsible for violence.”
“Obviously, he has a balancing act to do,” Marvel said.
Marvel added he reached out to the White House and Vice President Kamala Harris’s office, a former state attorney general, for comment but did not receive a response.
“The politics have shifted dramatically since George Floyd. The ‘defund the police’ movement, low police morale, along with the current crime, makes it hard to argue for reform,” said one Republican aide.
The aide said it was unclear whether a bill would pass by the end of the year, pointing to the sticking point of qualified immunity.
Highlighting Biden’s reluctance to touch the issue publicly, polls show the president is underwater over his handling of crime. Murders nationwide increased by about 25% last year and close to 45% in New York City.
Forty-five percent of voters disapproved of Biden’s handling of the issue, according to a July 17-20 Economist/YouGov poll. Only 38% of voters approved.
In a July Morning Consult/Politico poll, more than three-quarters of registered voters called violent crime a “major problem” in the country, with 80% of black voters agreeing. Seventy-seven percent of voters who approve of Biden’s job performance agreed, and 73% of all voters believe the problem is growing.
According to 49% of voters, defunding police departments, a cause some prominent Democrats have supported, is driving the spike. That number rose to 74% among Republicans.
It is not just polls that show the challenge of navigating rising crime and police reform.
A post-mortem of the 2020 election conducted by three prominent Democratic groups — Third Way, the Collective PAC, and the Latino Victory Fund — found Republicans successfully branded Democratic candidates as “radicals” by invoking calls to defund the police.
Moreover, in some precincts where messaging focused on “socialism” and “law and order,” Republicans garnered a higher share of Hispanic, Asian, and black voters than they did in 2016.
“Some of the rhetoric we see from coastal Democrats” has hurt others in their party, with calls to “defund” the police proving especially harmful — even among voters who back police reforms, according to Quentin James, Collective PAC’s president.
“We did a poll that showed black voters, by and large, vastly support reforming the police and reallocating their budgets,” James told the New York Times. “That terminology — ‘defund’ — was not popular in the black community.”
“Responding to Defund the Police attacks was most challenging and complicated for candidates of color, and they found generic response strategies extremely frustrating,” the report said.
“In many instances, ‘defund the police’ for a lot of elected officials or candidates didn’t actually mean completely defunding police departments. In a lot of cases, that meant reforming,” Tracy Falon King, the Collective PAC’s press secretary, told the Washington Examiner. “There were some that believed in completely defunding the police. But that was a very small percentage overall.”
But the message carried. King said it was used to frighten voters into thinking “that we’re going to come into communities and take away their police departments, their police officers, when in fact, in many cases, [including in] the black community, we do believe in having a properly funded police department.”
While Democrats held a broad advantage with voters of color last year, Biden lost ground with Latino voters compared to 2016, “especially among working-class and non-college voters in these communities,” fueling losses in Florida, Texas, and New Mexico.
Democrats are eager to stem the bleeding.
Last month, House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, a Democrat from South Carolina and close Biden ally, said slogans promoting to defund the police were “cutting the throats of the party.”
“I know exactly where my constituents are. They are against that, and I’m against that,” Clyburn told the New York Times. He has repeatedly voiced concern over Democrats’ calls to reduce police funding.
And in an unusual move, Biden pollster John Anzalone told Politico his firm was working to counter a ballot amendment that seeks to replace Minneapolis’s police department with a “department of public safety.”
“We don’t usually discuss clients, but I can confirm we work for a group who supports the mayor’s reelection and opposes the defund referendum and supports many of the Biden administration recommendations on how local governments can use federal support to improve public safety,” Anzalone told the outlet.