Fact check: GOP clings to fiction Biden backs ‘defund police’

Their claims are flimsy and ignore that Biden seeks to nearly double funding for policing grants.

By Glenn Kessler / The Washington Post

“Biden releases 5-point anti-crime plan … 2) abolish the police.”

— Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Tex., in a Twitter thread, June 23

“The problem isn’t guns and it isn’t COVID either. It’s violent rioting and the Defund the Police movement, both of which were supported, financially and rhetorically, by the Biden admin.”

— Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., in a tweet, June 23

During the 2020 election, the Trump campaign desperately tried to claim that Joe Biden was a supporter of the “defund the police” movement advocated by some elements of the Democratic Party. But as we noted, Trump had a problem: Biden firmly rejected calls from left-wing activists to defund police and in fact said he would double funding for a community policing program that would put more officers on the street.

This did not stop the Trump campaign or the former president from falsely suggesting otherwise. On our “Bottomless Pinocchio” list, we listed 72 examples of Trump saying Biden would defund police.

Trump lost the election. But here we are, six months into Biden’s presidency, and Republicans are still making this false claim. Cruz and Banks are two good examples of this effort, though there are many others. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., for example, claimed in a tweet that Biden “went from defund the police during the campaign to now ‘refund the police,’” even though his position has not changed.

First of all, let’s get straight what it means to “defund the police.”

Only in rare instances are liberal advocates calling for the outright elimination of police departments. Proponents by and large want to redirect some funds now spent on police forces to items such as education, public health, housing and youth services. The idea is that low-income communities would become stronger — and less in need of policing tactics — if root problems were addressed.

Under this concept, some police officers would be replaced with trained social workers or specialized response teams in an effort to let police focus on violent crime, not drug overdoses or homelessness. The theory is that police would be better positioned to deal with rapes and murders if they were not required to deal with other social ills that sometimes lead to community confrontations with police.

We obviously take no position on the issue. But this is a catchphrase that can be easily twisted to mean something else; leaving the door wide open for political attacks.

Cruz’s Twitter thread covers a number of elements on crime, and to his credit, he claims to offer evidence to back up his claims. “These (somewhat joking) positions reflect ACTUAL POLICY POSITIONS taken by the Biden Admin.,” Cruz wrote. We’re focusing on his statement about Biden wanting to abolish the police, since that is such a common GOP talking point.

But when you get to the part of his Twitter thread explaining this claim, it does not prove that abolishing police is an actual Biden administration policy position. Instead, it cites statements made by two of Biden’s Justice Department appointments before they joined the administration: Kristen Clarke, the assistant attorney general for civil rights, and Vanita Gupta, associate attorney general.

Regular readers may recall that during the confirmation fight over Gupta’s appointment we gave her an Upside-Down Pinocchio for making acknowledged flip-flops on her position on defunding police. But what matters for this fact check is her position now; and she made clear during her confirmation that she backs Biden administration policies and does not support defunding the police.

Similarly, Banks, chair of the Republican Study Committee, a House GOP caucus, offers little evidence for his claim that the Biden administration “supported, financially and rhetorically” violent rioting and the defund police movement. His tweet directed readers to a Fox News opinion article published under his name.

“There is overwhelming evidence connecting the rise in murders to the violent riots last summer and the Defund the Police movement,” Banks wrote. “Both of which were supported, financially and rhetorically, by the Democratic Party and the Biden administration.”

For the word “financially,” the op-ed links to one of our fact checks — on then-Sen. Kamala Harris in 2020 supporting donations to a bail fund in Minnesota after protests broke out in response to the killing of George Floyd by a police officer. For the word “rhetorically,” the article links to a comment by Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., in June 2020 dismissing a “myth” that violence in Portland, Ore., stemmed from antifa, a decentralized network of activists who oppose what they perceive as racist or fascist.

Last time we checked, Nadler is not part of the Biden administration. Harris, of course, is vice president. But her support for the bail fund took place in June 2020, before she was the vice-presidential nominee. As we noted in the fact check, the vast majority of people arrested in Minneapolis — 92 percent — had to pay no bail. The fund did bail out at least two people charged with attempted murder or burglary during the protests. But there is no evidence that they committed additional crimes after being released.

In other words, Cruz and Banks have no basis for claiming that abolishing police or supporting the defund police movement is a Biden administration position.

Indeed, the opposite is true.

In his fiscal 2022 budget, Biden kept his campaign promise and proposed to more than double the funding for the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Hiring Program. Funding is provided to state and local governments to hire law enforcement officers, thus inflating the size of police departments. In Trump’s last year, $156.5 million was provided for COPS Hiring, while Biden would boost that to $388 million, Justice Department documents say. In fact, Biden would boost funding for all COPS grant programs to $651 million, up from $386 million under Trump.

Moreover, Biden announced on June 23 that he was urging cities experiencing an increase in crime to tap funds in his coronavirus relief bill “to hire police officers needed for community policing and to pay their overtime.” He added that they also “can use the funding to scale up wraparound services for the residents as well, including substance abuse and mental health services that we know will make a difference in prevention of crime.”

A media representative for Banks did not respond to requests for comment. Steve Guest, a Cruz spokesman, issued this statement via email:

“Sen. Cruz’s office is not engaging in attempts like this by corrupt corporate media outlets to carry water for Democrats under the false pretense of a so-called ‘fact check.’ When Biden nominates two vocal advocates of abolishing the police to senior positions at the Justice Department — and when Democratic cities across the country are slashing funding to police departments — the Biden admin doesn’t get to pretend they’re on both sides of the issue (no matter how desperately The Washington Post wants to help them do so).”

Republicans keep trying to tag Biden with being part of the defund police movement. But that’s simply false. The flimsiness of the charge is demonstrated by the paucity of the evidence that lawmakers muster when making their hyperbolic claims.

The reality is this: Biden wants to boost federal funding to allow for the hiring of more police officers. He said that during the campaign and then fulfilled that pledge in his initial budget proposal. The president sets the policies in his administration; and he’s been entirely consistent.

On a scale of one to four, Cruz and Banks earn Four Pinocchios (whoppers).

Glenn Kessler has reported on domestic and foreign policy for more than three decades. Send him statements to fact check by emailing him, tweeting at him @GlennKesslerWP, or sending him a message on Facebook.

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