With crime and gun violence rising in many major cities across the country – and the issue increasingly in the media spotlight – President Biden on Wednesday gives a major address to spell out his administration's anti-crime steps.
Biden’s speech comes as some Democrats are starting to raise serious concerns that crime – coupled with the continued calls by some on the left to defund the police in the wake of last year’s racial protests – could threaten the party’s prospects as it tries to protect its House and Senate majorities in next year’s midterm elections. And it comes as Republicans step up their attacks on Democrats over the issue.
But the president needs to walk a fine line between his party’s moderate wing and the progressive left, which is hungry for criminal justice reform.
Coverage of the big city crime spike, which started last year during the coronavirus pandemic while Donald Trump was in the White House, has increased in recent months both locally and nationally. Media coverage will likely expand during what criminal justice experts predict to be a violent summer as the country climbs out of the coronavirus pandemic. And with the rate of COVID deaths declining as more Americans get vaccinated, recent public opinion polling suggest that crime is surpassing the pandemic as a top concern for Americans.
"I'm going to keep my city safe," Brooklyn borough president Eric Adams said Tuesday night, as he led a crowded field of contenders following initial results in New York City’s Democratic mayoral primary. The former police captain in the nation’s most populous city made fighting crime a top issue in a race that was increasing defined by the issue over the past month.
Some Democratic strategists are concerned that the race in New York City is a sign of things to come in next year’s midterms.
"I think there is a very real concern among Democratic candidates and operatives that crime will get more press attention that it actually deserves," a longtime Democratic consultant who asked to remain anonymous to speak more freely told Fox News. "I think Democrats are very concerned that the Republican attacks will be treated as legitimate and get more attention that they should."
After last year’s death of George Floyd, a Black man who died at the hands of a white police officer in Minneapolis, and the resulting nationwide protests over racial inequity, the issues of crime and defunding the police became a major topics in the 2020 presidential and congressional elections. And while the Democrats won back the White House and Senate, the GOP unexpectedly took a big bite out of the Democrats House majority.
A "deep dive" of the 2020 election compiled by House Democrats earlier this year partially blamed effective messaging by Republicans that focused on the far left’s "defund the police" movement, for the party’s underwhelming performance last November.
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair Sean Patrick Maloney, in an interview with The Washington Post, acknowledged that the GOP attacks against the "defund the police" movement and tagging Democrats as "socialists" proved to be more effective than Democrats ever anticipated. "The lies and distortions about defund and socialism carried a punch," he said.
Veteran Republican strategist Colin Reed emphasized that "if voters don’t feel safe, they’re going to blame the party in charge and right now the party in charge across all levers of the federal government is the Democratic Party."
Reed argued that "Biden and his team are waking up, looking at the poll numbers, realizing that if they go into next year’s midterm elections with a crime surge on their watch and nothing to show for it, the electoral results are going to be cataclysmic."
House GOP campaign officials tell Fox News that they’ll continue to spotlight the issue as they aim to win back the chamber’s majority in the 2022 midterms.
In a taste of things to come, National Republican Congressional Committee chair Rep. Tom Emmer – in a statement to Fox News – charged that "House Democrats spent the last year defunding the police and vilifying law enforcement. Every voter knows Democrats can’t be trusted to keep our communities safe and secure."
But a Democratic operative who worked on last year’s elections argued "this is not a new line of attack by Republicans" and predicted that "Democrats are prepared for it."
Michael Ceraso – a progressive Democratic strategist and a veteran of the 2016 Bernie Sanders presidential campaign – said that "I think the era of defunding the police for the most part is pretty much over and the New York mayoral race pretty much pointed to that."
But he highlighted that the crime surge "is forcing the Democratic Party to go more moderate and it’s isolating progressives even further."
"If young people don’t feel like their issues are spoken to, they’re not going to come out for a midterm election," Ceraso warned. "Young progressives who voted in 2020 could easily slip off the radar if they don’t see anything happening nationally or in their state" on the issues they care about.
Then-presidential candidate Biden was put on the defensive by many of his progressive rivals during the 2020 Democratic primaries over his authoring of the 1994 crime bill, which was blamed for igniting a wave of mass incarcerations of minorities, and for his advocating for tough policies and penalties during the heights of the ‘war on drugs’ three decades ago.
And Biden, who since last year as distanced himself from the calls by some progressives to defund the police, is now facing calls from moderates to combat the crime surge while at the same time facing pressure from the left of his party to deliver criminal justice and policing reforms.
"I don’t think anyone disputes the challenge, but what’s up for debate is the solution and I think it’s as nuanced as Biden is on a lot of issues," veteran Democratic strategist Mary Anne Marsh told Fox News.
"What’s Biden’s trying to do is increase funding for police forces and for social and other programs that can help at the root of crime."
And Marsh argued that "the politics around crime are far more nuanced that the coverage of it and I think that’s something everyone has to grapple with."