President Joe Biden plans to tackle escalating crime rates on Wednesday, a politically charged issue that has rarely been a winning one for Democrats. And once a president addresses any issue, they own it.
Biden will unveil an anti-gun crime prevention strategy on Wednesday as homicides, in particular, tick up across the country. But Biden’s acknowledgment of the situation chafes his muted response to this year’s spate of mass shootings, and it presents a risk for Democrats before the 2022 midterm elections.
The White House confirmed Tuesday Biden was poised to announce another slate of anti-gun executive actions and boosts to community policing. Activists condemned the first raft of measures covering ghost guns, stabilizing braces, and red flag laws introduced in April as timid, and they were unable to hide their hopes that Democratic control of the White House and Congress would result in further-reaching reforms.
Former Kansas Republican Rep. Tim Huelskamp told the Washington Examiner he presumed Biden’s reluctance to call for sweeping changes was based on “some nasty polling.”
“That certainly didn’t stop them from pushing anti-gun zealot David Chipman on [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives],” the ex-Tea Party Caucus chairman said. “But just like in 1994 and 2010, attacking America’s law-abiding gun owners is not going to be a winning electoral strategy for the Democrats.”
Biden’s shift comes as crime rises to the No. 1 concern in New York’s Democratic mayoral primary contest. New York reported a 53% increase in homicides compared to two years ago, and shootings are up by more than 100% during the same time period.
The statistics, which echo around the country, provide Republicans with fodder to dust off their “defund the police” attack ads that resonated with voters in the last cycle after widespread protests over police brutality.
Republican National Committee spokesman Tommy Pigott pointed to at least 20 cities that reduced police funding after George Floyd’s death last year, contributing to low police morale, recruitment difficulties, and retention obstacles.
“Even with this surge in crime, the Democrat push to defund the police lives on,” he said. “It’s clear: For Democrat politicians, it’s your safety last, far-left activists first.”
Mike Berg, a House Republicans’ campaign organization spokesman, blamed bail reform and efforts to roll back qualified police immunity for exacerbating the problem.
“Democrats up and down the ballot have done everything in their power to subvert law enforcement,” Berg said. “Voters will hold Democrats accountable for their pro-crime policies.”
Qualified immunity is one aspect of a bipartisan policing reform bill being negotiated by Sens. Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat; Tim Scott, a South Carolina Republican; and California Democratic Rep. Karen Bass.
For Democratic consultant and former San Francisco-based prosecutor Paul Henderson, Biden’s crime prevention strategy will be “overshadowed” by police reform talks.
“Demands are growing for either a speedy bipartisan compromise regarding reform or independent action by the Democratic Party that would include executive order from the Biden-Harris administration,” he said. “The reform bill as currently drafted still leaves more work to be done at the state and local level to address transparency and measure accountability for most law enforcement departments.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki contended Tuesday that crime prevention and policing reform are not mutually exclusive.
“Those negotiations are ongoing, and we keep them abreast of our work,” she said of Bass, Booker, and Scott.
Psaki also defended Biden’s focus on guns by arguing that, although personal and property crime is on the rise, “gun violence is absolutely the driver.”
Crime has been a complicated subject for Biden throughout his career. His involvement with the 1994 crime bill, which critics assert created a culture of mass incarceration that disproportionately affected minority communities, plagued him in 2020.
“On the campaign, the president said that some parts of the bill worked and some areas did not work,” Psaki said Tuesday.
Biden’s anti-gun crime prevention strategy dovetails with progress in Congress, led by Connecticut Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy. Murphy is writing pared-down background check legislation after two House-passed measures stalled in the Senate.
A key colleague Murphy needs to convince is West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, a centrist who has thwarted much of the liberal agenda in the Senate. Manchin is especially seeking a compromise on background checks that exempts private sales between people who know each other.