President Biden, during a trip Tuesday to the swing state of Pennsylvania, sought to blunt criticism that he’s soft on crime by calling for increases to police funding and depicting Republicans as anti-cop for their anti-FBI rhetoric.
Mr. Biden spoke in Wilkes-Barre, a short drive from Scranton, where he spent his early childhood. The speech had been scheduled for July, but Mr. Biden was forced to postpone it after he tested positive for COVID-19.
In remarks peppered with local references such as the candy stores in Scranton’s Greenridge neighborhood, Mr. Biden laid out his crime prevention plan.
The centerpiece of Mr. Biden’s proposal calls for $13 billion in spending over the next five years for local police to hire 100,000 new police officers.
“When it comes to public safety in this nation, the answer is not to defund the police, it’s fund the police,” Mr. Biden told the crowd. “I’m tired of not giving the kind of help they need. We’re in a situation in this country where we have to give them additional resources they need to get their job done.”
The proposal has faced intense criticism from racial justice activists who say the proposal is just a repeat of his 1994 crime bill that he led as a senator, which has been blamed for the mass incarceration of Black people.
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Both the American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP have criticized Mr. Biden’s proposal to put more cops on the nation’s streets.
While Mr. Biden did not specifically address their complaints, he underscored that the new officers would spend more time getting to know the communities they protect.
“You got to be able to know and trust the police, and the police have to be able to trust the community,” he said.
But he also balanced his calls for more police funding by urging more accountability for “lousy officers” in local departments.
Mr. Biden’s plan also includes spending $3 billion to help clear court backlogs and solve murders. It would create a $15 billion grant program for cities and states to promote new approaches to prevent violent crime or identify situations that warrant a public health response instead of law enforcement. Another $5 billion would be used for evidence-based community violence intervention programs.
Mr. Biden also tore into Republican lawmakers. He said their tepid condemnation of the Jan. 6, 2021, riot in the U.S. Capitol by supporters of former President Trump along with their harsh rhetoric criticizing the FBI after this month’s raid of Mr. Trump’s home contradicts their claims of being pro-police.
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“You can’t be a party of law and order and call the people who attacked the police on Jan. 6 patriots. You can’t do it,” Mr. Biden said. “And now it’s sickening to see the new attacks on the FBI, threatening the lives of law enforcement agents and their families for simply carrying out the law and doing their job.”
Mr. Biden is expected to talk more about the Jan. 6 attack and the role of law enforcement in a speech Thursday in Philadelphia. He also addressed the issue when he spoke last month to the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement.
The president also renewed his call for a federal ban on assault weapons.
“It’s time to hold every elected official’s feet to the fire and ask them if they are for banning assault weapons: ‘Yes or No,’” Mr. Biden said. “If their answer is ‘no,’ vote against them.”
Mr. Biden’s bid to restore the federal ban on assault weapons comes as the White House attempts to seize on the momentum spurred by a bipartisan gun safety bill that Mr. Biden signed into law last month. The bill was passed in the wake of mass shootings in Buffalo, New York, Uvalde, Texas, and elsewhere, but Mr. Biden said more work needs to be done.
As a U.S. senator, Mr. Biden helped ban assault-style weapons for 10 years, including weapons similar to AR-15 firearms. He has urged Congress to restore that law.