President Donald Trump and his allies are describing calls to “defund the police” as a dangerous example of Democratic overreach.
And some Democrats themselves, including presumptive presidential nominee Joe Biden, are distancing themselves from the “defund” push, which some supporters say is a merely symbolic gesture rather than an actual plan to eliminate law enforcement agencies.
But confusion over the proposal’s intent has created an opportunity for the Republican president, who swiftly condemned the movement while his opponent took some time to come out against it.
Facing increasing pressure from the Trump campaign to weigh in, Biden addressed the issue on Monday in an interview with “CBS Evening News.”
“I don’t support defunding the police. I support conditioning federal aid to police based on whether or not they meet certain basic standards of decency, honorableness and, in fact, are able to demonstrate they can protect the community, everybody in the community,” Biden said.
Other opponents of the movement include Democratic Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, a former presidential candidate, and Democratic Rep. Karen Bass of California, head of the Congressional Black Caucus.
NAACP President Derrick Johnson, in an interview, also refused to endorse calls to defund the police.
“I support the energy behind it. I don’t know what that substantively means. As I’m talking to people about the concept, I’ve gotten three different explanations,” Johnson said.
Democrats are well-positioned to win over the political center this fall, according to Republican pollster Frank Luntz.
Luntz added, however, that Democrats risk their advantage by embracing policies Americans view as radical following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Floyd died after an officer knelt on his neck for roughly nine minutes.
Municipal officials in Minneapolis have spouted the “defund the police” language backed by some activists and a handful of progressive House Democrats.
Protesters over the weekend also painted “DEFUND THE POLICE” in large yellow letters on a street close to the White House.
But there was little evidence that the effort was gaining momentum in Congress. Some Democrats described it as bad politics.
Former Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, a moderate who lost her 2018 re-election bid, said “defund the police” is “a horrible name” that misconstrues the goal.
“By starting with the word ‘defund,’ you’ve left the impression that you are doing something much more radical than what needs to be done,” Heitkamp said.
Trump and congressional Republicans have denounced the movement in no uncertain terms.
“This year has seen the lowest crime numbers in our Country’s recorded history, and now the Radical Left Democrats want to Defund and Abandon our Police,” Trump tweeted on Monday. “Sorry, I want LAW & ORDER!”
This year has seen the lowest crime numbers in our Country’s recorded history, and now the Radical Left Democrats want to Defund and Abandon our Police. Sorry, I want LAW & ORDER!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 8, 2020
The House GOP campaign arm sent out emails condemning “defund the police” and connecting it to Democratic candidates.
“No industry is safe from Democrats’ abolish culture,” Michael McAdams, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said.
“First they wanted to abolish private health insurance, then it was capitalism and now it’s the police. What’s next, the fire department?”
Democrats on Capitol Hill unveiled a proposal on Monday to address police brutality that did not include plans to strip funding from the police. The Justice in Policing Act would limit legal protections for police, create a national database of excessive-force incidents and ban chokeholds, among other changes.
Democratic Rep. Matt Cartwright of Pennsylvania rejected calls to defund the police outright.
“I don’t care how it’s named, I’m not for that,” he said.
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