Caught in a slew of hypocrisy, President Joe Biden referenced Democratic efforts to fight crime in a botched attempt to paint Republicans as soft-on-crime. The spotlight on crime comes as many far-left cities struggle with staggering violent crime rates in the wake of defunding law enforcement.
Catherine Lucey and Natalie Andrews; August 30, 2022
WILKES-BARRE, Pa.—President Biden stressed Democratic efforts to improve public safety Tuesday by spending more on policing and tightening gun laws, while accusing some Republicans of trying to undercut law enforcement in probes related to former President Donald Trump.
During his speech in the Keystone State, a crucial battleground in the coming midterm elections, Mr. Biden looked to counter GOP attacks that his party is soft on crime. Democrats are divided on bills to address problems at police departments, with some moderates pushing for grants for small police agencies for hiring and training, and progressive and Black Democrats pushing for more accountability for police.
“When it comes to public safety in this nation, the answer is not defund the police, it’s fund the police,” Mr. Biden said.
The focus on policing and guns comes as mayors and law-enforcement leaders have been trying to tamp down a surge in violent crime in recent years, while some Democrats have sought to overhaul policing tactics and ease criminal penalties. The number of homicides rose nearly 30% in 2020, and preliminary data indicate the rate continued to rise in 2021.
He highlighted the bipartisan firearms legislation he signed into law earlier in the summer, repeated his calls to pass a ban on so-called assault weapons and called on Republicans to condemn the rioters that stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in support of Mr. Trump.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) had planned to hold votes on a package of bills in July, and then again in August, but delayed the votes over splits inside the party. The package would likely include legislation banning assault-style weapons and helping police address mental-health crises, which lawmakers largely agree on. The main disagreement is over legislation focused on funding police departments, which some Democrats say should do more to limit the use of force, no-knock warrants and other controversial tactics. The bills as a package would be unlikely to advance in the Senate.
Many Democrats have pushed for increasing police accountability since May 2020, when George Floyd was killed by a police officer in Minneapolis, setting off nationwide protests over the use of force against Black Americans. During the protests, some progressives and activists called for defunding police departments, and some cities did cut police budgets. Many Democrats later blamed “defund the police” rhetoric in part for their loss of House seats in the 2020 election, and lawmakers continue to debate the best way to cut crime rates while improving police practices.
Mr. Biden was joined Tuesday by Sen. Bob Casey, Gov. Tom Wolf, Rep. Matt Cartwright, all Pennsylvania Democrats, and Attorney General Josh Shapiro, the Democratic candidate for governor. Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, the Democratic candidate for Senate, wasn’t in attendance but is expected to join Mr. Biden at a Labor Day parade Monday in Pittsburgh, and Mr. Biden praised the candidate in his speech.
Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel issued a statement saying Mr. Biden was out of touch with working-class voters. “Biden Democrats want to destroy Pennsylvania jobs, release violent criminals back on the streets, and raise taxes on hardworking Pennsylvanians,” she said.
In the first of three appearances in Pennsylvania in about a week, Mr. Biden condemned what he called “MAGA Republicans” allied with Mr. Trump. He argued that defending the rioters that stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 is at odds with backing the police.
“Don’t tell me you support law enforcement if you won’t condemn what happened on the 6th,” Mr. Biden said. “You can’t be pro law enforcement and pro insurrection.”
Mr. Biden also took aim at Republicans over their criticism of the FBI search of Mr. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate, saying “I’m opposed to defunding the police. I’m also opposed to defunding the FBI.”
After revelations that FBI agents had mishandled aspects of their investigation into ties between the 2016 Trump campaign and Russia, and the disclosure of hundreds of anti-Trump texts from some officials working on that inquiry, Republicans have criticized the FBI as being biased against Trump supporters. FBI officials acknowledged deficiencies in the Russia investigation but have denied that bias influences its investigations.
More recently, Republicans have criticized the FBI’s search of Mar-a-Lago, calling it an unnecessary escalation that appeared to be indicative of the Biden administration weaponizing the Federal Bureau of Investigation against its opponents.
A senior FBI official, Timothy Thibault, retired recently, several months after Sen. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa) had publicized in a letter that Mr. Thibault had “liked” several LinkedIn posts about opinion articles criticizing the Trump Justice Department and had reposted on Twitter an anti-Trump tweet.
A lawyer for Mr. Thibault said the veteran public corruption investigator was voluntarily retiring after 30 years of service and that he expects to be “fully exonerated” in an inquiry into the alleged social media posts.
The bipartisan gun legislation Mr. Biden signed into law earlier this year was crafted in response to deadly shootings around the country, including the killing of 19 students and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, and one at a grocery store in Buffalo, N.Y., that killed 10.
The new law includes a requirement that background checks cover the juvenile and mental-health records of gun purchasers under 21 years of age. The measure will also encourage states to enact extreme risk protection orders, also known as red-flag laws, to allow courts to order guns to be temporarily removed from people deemed dangerous. It will impose new criminal penalties on straw purchases, or buying a gun for someone not permitted to, and gun trafficking.
Before the new law, Congress had been unable to pass major substantive firearms legislation since 1994, when it enacted a 10-year assault-weapons ban.
In his speech, Mr. Biden repeated his calls to pass another ban, saying “I’m determined to ban assault weapons in this country. I did it once before and I’ll do it again.”
Photo: MATT SLOCUM/ASSOCIATED PRESS