Jue. Mar 30th, 2023

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden’s decision Thursday on a local crime law is sending a national message to his fellow Democrats about how he thinks they should address Republican criticism of the nation’s rising crime rates.

Democrats have predominantly focused on police reform since the George Floyd protests reignited a national debate over race and law enforcement three years ago, but rising violent crime rates and growing perceived unease in major cities has prompted a chorus of party strategists and officials to call for a tougher approach to countering Republican attacks.

Biden, who has a history of pushing for stronger crime laws, has tried to bridge the Democratic divide but was forced to choose sides this week when he said he would not allow the Washington, DC, city government to enact laws that would reduce some criminals. sanctions

“If Republicans thought President Biden would give them a key issue for 2024, they thought wrong,” said Democratic strategist Lis Smith, a veteran of former President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign and architect of the rise of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “It is going to be very difficult to define him as soft on crime after he has denounced the underfunding of the police and the reduction of sentences for crimes such as car thefts.”

Nothing focuses the mind of a White House preparing for re-election quite like an incumbent who gets just 17 percent of the vote, as Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot did Tuesday in the city’s mayoral race. crime focused.

The DC bill offered a number of complications. The Democratic-controlled city council passed sweeping crime reform, but then the mayor, also a Democrat, vetoed it. The council overrode his veto.

But DC’s unusual existence as not fully independent from the federal government means Congress can overturn any law changes. A Republican-led bill won the support of about 30 Democrats in the House and is now expected to pass the Senate with a handful of Democrats, forcing Biden to sign or veto it. Democrats, who have increasingly pushed to let DC govern itself, called on Biden to veto it on the grounds that it is not for the federal government to determine local criminal law. But Biden did not agree.

«I support DC statehood and home rule, but I don’t support some of the changes that the DC Council introduced over the mayor’s objections, like lowering penalties for vehicle theft,» the president said. said on Twitter.

The White House is planning an all-out effort to portray him as tough on crime and try to undermine any Republican advantage on an issue that has put many Democrats on the defensive.

Next week, the president will ask for increased funding for his Safer America Plan, aimed at crime prevention and policing, in his 2024 budget proposal, according to a White House official. Biden is also expected to continue to publicly emphasize his criminal record.

The White House is preparing more broadly to step up its criticism of Republicans on crime, with plans to highlight some efforts by the GOP to cut the Department’s Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Program. of Justice, opposition to an assault weapons ban and calls to defund the FBI. . The White House plans to argue that by proposing to return federal spending to 2022 levels, for example, Republicans would cut funding for crime-fighting programs.

The effort will look similar to how Biden spoke about crime on the campaign trail during last year’s midterm elections, the White House official said.

«Republicans in Congress must commit here and now to join President Biden, without obstructing him, in fighting the rising crime rate he inherited,» White House spokesman Andrew Bates said. “His years long campaign to defund law enforcement in the name of ideology could not be more at odds with the country.”

Biden’s decision stunned congressional Democrats, most of whom recently voted to leave the DC law standing, especially since the administration indicated last month that the president would take the opposite position, and is being viewed widely through a political lens.

“It is smart politics. She was running into a buzz saw,” South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham told reporters on Capitol Hill. «You don’t want to be without the mayor of DC.»

Veteran Democratic strategist James Carville, who was one of Bill Clinton’s top strategists when he successfully overcame long-standing perceptions that Democrats were soft on crime to win the presidency during the height of the crack epidemic in the decade in 1990, he said Biden’s move is a good step, but the party needs to do more.

“It shows you the power this issue has become. Look what happened in Chicago. Look what happened in San Francisco. Everywhere you look,” Carville said, referring to the removal of Lightfoot and former San Francisco district attorney Chesa Boudin in a recall election last year.

Crime largely disappeared from national politics while rates were at record lows for much of the 2000s and 2010s, but Carville said the policy changed when they began to rise during the pandemic, though they’re still not quite as high. tall as before. They were in the 90’s.

«This is a core issue and it’s one that we should, by any measure or any statistic, be ahead of, but we’re not,» he said of the Democrats.

Biden’s move put him in the uncomfortable position of receiving praise from Republicans and criticism from House Democrats, the vast majority of whom have now officially voted against striking down controversial criminal law reform, which could be used against him in Republican attack ads.

“Biden just hung the House Democrats out to dry. It’s incompetence bordering on hilarity that they waited until a lot of them walked the plank on this,» said Matt Gorman, a Republican strategist who has worked on House campaigns. “Crime is only gaining prominence as a problem. It seems that Biden, since he is apparently running for re-election, is telling his party to wake him up.”

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed the measure to repeal the DC law with the support of just 31 of the 212 Democrats in the chamber.

Democrats control the Senate, but DC issues get a special fast track to a floor vote and several House Democrats, and not just the usual suspects like West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, said they would vote with Republicans. to nullify the law.

Democrats including New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and California Rep. Pete Aguilar denounced Biden on Twitter for undermining the capital city’s self-governance, while non-voting DC House delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, called it «a sad day for the home of DC.» ruler.»

“With crime on the rise across the country, most senators do not want to be seen as supporting criminal justice reform,” Holmes Norton said in a statement.

Tellingly, though, few national Democrats offered strong defenses of the criminal law itself, focusing instead on DC’s ability to govern itself without federal intervention.

Violent crime is rising across the country and in major cities, the Democrats’ main base of support, as urban centers struggle to recover from the pandemic.

Last fall, Gallup discovered that a record 56% of Americans reported crimes had increased in their local area, the highest increase since the pollster first began asking the question in 1972. follow-up survey in January found that 72% of Americans expect crime to continue to increase this year.

Residents of urban areas reported a 15 percentage point drop in their perceived quality of life over the past year in deep blue New Jersey, according to a new Monmouth University Surveywhile suburbanites said their quality of life remained stable.

In DC, home to local and federal lawmakers considering criminal law, homicides they have gone up 30% about last year.

Last month, Rep. Angie Craig, D-Minnesota, was attacked in the elevator of her Washington apartment building by a man with 12 prior assaults on his record.

In an interview Speaking on a local radio station last week, Craig blasted some reform-minded Democrats on crime, pointing to, as an example, a failed 2021 ballot measure in Minneapolis to abolish the city’s police department and replace it with a new agency.

“There are people who, in my opinion, have been reckless with their words in recent years,” he said. “If we have to choose as a nation between social justice and public safety, we have all lost. We have to choose both.”

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