WASHINGTON — The decision of President Joe Biden Thursday regarding a local crime statute is a message to fellow Democrats about his views on how they should respond to Republican criticisms of rising crime rates in the country.
Since the George Floyd protests, Democrats have primarily focused on reforming police force. However, rising crime rates and increasing unease in major cities has prompted many party strategists to demand a more aggressive approach to combat Republican attacks.
Biden, who has a history pushing for tougher crime laws, has attempted to bridge the Democratic divide but was forced to choose sides this week when he stated that he would not allow Washington, D.C. to pass laws that would lower certain criminal penalties.
“Republicans thought that President Biden would give them a wedge issue in 2024,” stated Lis Smith, a Democratic strategist and veteran of former President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign. He was also an architect of the rise of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. After he has criticized defunding police and reducing sentences of crimes such as carjackings, it will be difficult to label him soft on crime.
Nothing can focus the mind of a White House that is gearing up to re-election as much as an incumbent receiving just 17 percent of votes, like Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot did on Tuesday in the city’s crime-focused mayoral election.
There were many complications in the D.C. bill. The Democratic-controlled city council passed a sweeping criminal reform but then the mayor, also a Democrat vetoed it. Her veto was overruled by the council.
D.C. is a unique entity that is not fully independent from the federal government, so Congress can block any law change. The Republican-led bill was supported by about 30 Democrats in Congress and is expected to pass the Senate. A few Democrats are also supporting it, which will force Biden to sign or veto. Democrats have been pushing for D.C.’s independence and called on Biden not to sign it, stating that it wasn’t the federal government’s job to decide local criminal law. But Biden didn’t acquiesce.
“I support D.C. Statehood, home-rule – but some of the changes D.C. Council made over the objections of the Mayor – such as lowering penalties to carjackings,” President stated on Twitter.
The White House plans to make a big effort to portray him as tough on crime, and to try to reduce any Republican advantage in an area that has put many Democrats on guard.
According to a White House official, the president will request an increase in funding for his Safer America Plan (which aims at crime prevention and police work), in his 2024 budget proposal. Biden is also expected to keep highlighting his record on crime issues.
The White House is preparing to escalate its criticism of Republicans on crimes. It plans to highlight GOP efforts to reduce the Justice Department’s Community Oriented Policing Services (or COPS) Program, and to oppose an assault weapons ban. The White House proposes to argue that Republicans would reduce funding for programs fighting crime by reducing federal spending to 2022 levels.
According to a White House official, this effort will be similar to Biden’s talk about crime during his campaign for last year’s midterm elections.
Andrew Bates, spokesperson for the White House, stated that “Congressional Republicans must commit here and now — not obstructing — President Biden in fighting rising crime rates he inherited.” “The country couldn’t be more disillusioned by their years-long campaign to cut funding for law enforcement in the name ideology.”
The decision of Biden to resign blindsided the congressional Democrats who voted to leave the D.C. law in place, especially after the administration suggested last month that the president would adopt the opposite position. This is being widely viewed through a political lens.
It’s smart politics. “He was running into a buzzsaw,” South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said to reporters at the Capitol. “You don’t want to be left of the D.C. Mayor.”
James Carville, a veteran Democratic strategist, was a key strategist for Bill Clinton during his victory over long-held perceptions that Democrats were soft on crime to win the presidency at the height of the crack epidemic. He said that while Biden’s move was a positive step, the party still needs to do more.
It shows how powerful this issue is. Take a look at what happened in Chicago. See what happened in San Francisco. Carville stated, “Everywhere you turn around,” referring to the removal of Lightfoot and former San Francisco District attorney Chesa Boudin during a recall election last January.
While crime has largely disappeared from national politics, rates were at historical lows for much of the 2000s and 2010. However, Carville stated that politics changed when rates started to rise during the pandemic. Although they are still not as high as in the 90s, they have remained stable.
He said that Democrats are not ahead of the issue because “this is a front-and-center issue”
Biden’s decision put him in the awkward position of being praised by Republicans and criticised by House Democrats. The vast majority of them are on the record voting against the controversial criminal reform. This could be used against them as part of GOP attack ads.
“Biden just left the House Democrats hanging. It’s incompetence bordering upon hilarity that they waited till scores of them walked on this,” stated Matt Gorman, a Republican strategist who worked on House campaigns. “Crime is only becoming more prominent as an issue. Biden is apparently trying to get his party to wake-up as he appears to be running for reelection.
The Republican-controlled House passed the measure to overturn D.C.’s law with the support of just 31 out of 212 Democrats in the chamber.
Democrats control the Senate. However, issues related to D.C. are given a special fast track to a floor vote. Several upper chamber Democrats — not just the usual suspects like Joe Manchin from West Virginia — stated that they would vote for the Republicans to repeal the law.
Democrats such as Alexandria OcasioCortez, New York Rep., and Pete Aguilar, California Rep., denounced Biden’s tweets for undermining the capital’s self-governance. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D.C.’s nonvoting House delegate) called it “a sad moment for D.C. Home rule.”
Holmes Norton stated in a statement that “with the nationwide increase of crime, most senators don’t want to be seen supporting criminal justice reform.”
It is telling that, however, very few national Democrats offered full-throated defenses for the crime law, instead focusing on D.C.’s capability to govern itself without federal intervention.
Violent crime is on the rise in all 50 states, and this is in large cities. This is because major cities are Democrats’ main support base.
Gallup reported last fall that an unprecedented 56% percent of Americans had reported crime increases in their area. This is the highest increase since 1972, when the pollster began asking this question. In January, 72% of Americans expected crime to rise in the coming year.
According to a new Monmouth University poll urban residents reported a 15% drop in their perception of their quality of living over the previous year in deep blue New Jersey. Suburbanites, however, said that their quality of live was stable.
D.C. is home to both local and federal legislators who are examining the crime law. Homicides have increased 30% in D.C. over last year.
Rep. Angie Craig (a Minnesota Democrat) was attacked last month in her Washington apartment building elevator by a man who had 12 assaults on his records.
Craig was interviewed by a local radio station last Wednesday. He criticized reformist Democrats for their views on crime. He cited, as an example 2021 ballot initiative in Minneapolis that would have abolished the city’s police department to be replaced with a new agency.
She said, “There are people who have been, in mine view, reckless with the words they’ve spoken over the last few years.” “If we are forced to choose between public safety and social justice, then we all lose. Both must be chosen.