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Amid pro-police messaging pivot, Biden planning woke criminal justice push: GOP senators

The White House links rampant crime to "underfunding" of police while also planning sweeping executive action that is "tantamount to defunding the police" and "would only further demoralize law enforcement," according to a group of Republican lawmakers.

Published: January 27, 2022 7:23pm

Updated: January 28, 2022 10:51pm

Even as President Biden strives to project a more police-friendly posture in public amid a historic surge in urban violence, his administration is quietly planning sweeping, unilateral executive action, GOP senators suspect, that is "tantamount to defunding the police" and "would only further demoralize law enforcement."

White House press secretary Jen Psaki acknowledged this week that there's been "a surge [in] crime over the last two years," adding that the "underfunding" of police departments is partially to blame.

"The Department of Justice has announced $139 million in grants to cities for community policing, which will put 1,000 more officers on the streets," Psaki said. "[Biden has] also proposed doubling those grants, and he's called for an additional $750 million for federal law enforcement."

Psaki added that Biden has spent his career "fighting for funding for police departments" and as president has "offered unprecedented levels of funding" to put "more cops on the beat."

Her comments echoed remarks Biden made last week.

"We shouldn't be cutting funding for police departments," he told a meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. "I propose increasing funding."

But even as Biden attempts to shore up his anti-crime credentials, his Justice Department is awarding ostensible crime-reduction grants to activist groups linked to the soft-on-crime policies of George Soros-funded district attorneys that, critics argue, have helped fuel a violent crime explosion in major, Democrat-controlled cities.

Moreover, GOP senators are decrying a purported draft executive order leaked earlier this month exposing an impending White House police reform initiative that includes measures supported by the "defund the police" movement. The reported leak came as congressional efforts on police reform stalled.

The purported order would ban common equipment used by local law enforcement officers that, according to the draft text, contributes to the "militarization" of police forces.

Specifically, the order as written would ban most drones, long-range acoustic devices, and armored cars. It would also prevent police departments from purchasing flash or stun grenades — nonlethal tools used to disorient suspects.

Additionally, the draft would deny local police departments access to federal grant funds if they don't comply with several of the order's provisions, including "supporting alternatives to arrest and incarceration" and establishing programs designed to encourage diversity.

Affirming their belief in the authenticity of the leaked draft, a group of Republican senators led by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, signed a letter to Biden last Friday lambasting the purported order.

"These hard-left policies are extremely ill-advised, dangerous to Americans, and would only further demoralize law enforcement," the letter stated. "We are baffled as to why this administration would want to implement this [order], which is tantamount to defunding the police."

The Biden administration has not confirmed the provenance or authenticity of the leaked draft.

After being slow to distance himself from progressive demands to defund police during the 2020 campaign, Biden has attempted to appeal to both sides of the policing debate since entering office. In April, he told a joint session of Congress that it's time "to root out systemic racism in our criminal justice system and to enact police reform in George Floyd's name that passed the House already."

Floyd's death in 2020 triggered nationwide protests against "systemic racism" and police brutality. "Defund the police" became a rallying cry at these demonstrations, many of which devolved into riots.

The bill to which Biden referred was passed by the Democrat-controlled House and would establish a national registry of police misconduct to be managed by the Justice Department. The bill would also, among other measures, prohibit no-knock warrants in federal drug cases and overhaul qualified immunity for police officers, taking away certain legal protections for law enforcement officials.

At the same time, Biden has said throughout his presidency that he opposes defunding police departments, while indicating he supports reallocating law enforcement funding toward other areas, such as social work.

Many supporters of the "defund the police" movement say they don't want to abolish police departments but rather cut funding to them.

The White House didn't respond to questions from Just the News asking for an outline of some of the major initiatives the Biden administration is taking to combat the current crime wave and whether the push to defund police departments is wrong or counterproductive.

Biden's balancing act could prove politically problematic as progressive activists and lawmakers remain outspoken in favor of defunding law enforcement.

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), for example, has praised the "defund the police" movement and called for the Minneapolis Police Department to be dismantled because it is "rotten to the root." Reps. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), meanwhile, have called to redistribute police funding.

Sherrilyn Ifill, the president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, has also backed the movement, saying previously that "this over-reliance on police has given us a regime that we can see is not working."

Ifill is reportedly being considered as a possible nominee to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court left by retiring Justice Stephen Breyer.

Meanwhile, pop star Rihanna and Twitter founder Jack Dorsey are teaming up to fund a range of progressive groups, from the Movement for Black Lives to the Center for Popular Democracy, that support defunding or outright abolishing the police.

Biden appears to be intent on distancing himself from such efforts by passing legislation that includes measures to support law enforcement. Indeed, Democratic strategists such as James Carville have slammed efforts to cut police funding, arguing they scare off voters who might otherwise vote for Democrats.

Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco argued this week that the Biden administration can walk and chew gun at the same time, supporting law enforcement while also addressing allegations of discriminatory policing.

"This is not an either/or," she told CNN. "We have got to do both."

The policing debate is unfolding at a time when the White House wants to appear tough on crime amid a historic surge in violent crime.

At least 13 cities broke their homicide records in 2021 — all 13 are run by Democratic mayors. In cities such as Los Angeles and California, theft and looting have devastated local businesses. A record number of police officers were also killed on duty last year. According to the Fraternal Order of Police, ambush-style attacks on law enforcement officers spiked 115%.

Recent polling shows anywhere from 60% to 70% of Americans disapprove of Biden's handling of crime.

The crime wave comes as police departments struggle to combat staffing shortages due in part to an increased number of retirements and resignations. Big cities such as New York and Seattle cut funding to officers in 2020 and 2021 — although many have restored some of the funding due to political pressure and increased crime.

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