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Newsletter: Essential Politics: From ‘reform the police’ to ‘fund the police’

When President Biden unveiled his $37-billion Safer America Plan last week in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., his call to “fund the police” was met with enthusiastic applause.

“When it comes to public safety in this nation, the answer is not defund the police, it’s fund the police,” Biden told the crowd. “We’re in a situation in this country where we have to give them additional resources they need to get their job done.”

His Safer America Plan is aimed at funding jobs for 100,000 additional police officers across the nation.

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About five months earlier, during the State of the Union address, he made the same demand — nearly word for word — confidently stating that “we should all agree the answer is not to defund the police. It’s to fund the police.” Lawmakers across the aisle stood in ovation as he went on: “Fund them, fund them. Fund them with resources and training, resources and training they need to protect their communities.”

But two years ago, Biden’s comments on police officers sounded different.

After Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd in May 2020, Biden spent the summer on the campaign trail demanding police reform. He called the violence a wake-up call for the nation and, after winning the election, promoted the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. But when the act failed to move through the U.S. Senate, the push for nationwide police reform stalled out.

Now, as Biden settles into a “fund the police” mindset, his summer 2020 promises to “reform the police” are collecting dust.

Hey readers, I’m Anumita Kaur, a reporter with the L.A. Times. Today, we’re talking about Biden’s calls to fund the police and what they might mean for voters.

Defining the narrative

According to Cornell Belcher, a Democratic pollster, Biden’s calls to fund the police are a reminder of what he — and the Democratic Party as a whole — stand for.

“It is clarifying and defining the terms of the debate for the 2022 midterms,” Belcher said. “This is not a change of policy. Nowhere ... have Democrats been for defunding the police. If you look at what congressional Democrats did this year, you will see that there’s plenty of funding for police and law enforcement.”

Therefore, this is “Campaign 101,” Belcher said: “Define yourself before your enemy defines you.”

Republicans “want to falsely blanket-accuse Democrats for wanting to defund the police, something that neither Biden nor any major Democratic leadership has ever voiced wanting to do,” Belcher said. “So, I think it makes an awful lot of strategic sense for Biden to be preemptive, given that we know going into the fall that Republicans want to make crime and safety and fear a major campaign issue.”

Biden’s attempts to control the narrative won’t necessarily mobilize voters. Although he never supported defunding the police — as he is taking care to remind voters — he did campaign on a promise to reform the police.

But congressional negotiations on a police reform bill collapsed last year.

“Democrats have to show that they ... are fighting for the issues that are really important to young people, hard stop, and criminal justice reform is one of those issues,” Belcher said.

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‘Give us something to be enthusiastic about’

Melina Abdullah, co-founder of Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles and director of Black Lives Matter Grassroots, a nationwide organization, said Biden’s “fund the police” rhetoric takes the nation backward and will further alienate marginalized voters.

“He thinks, and the Democratic party thinks, that we’re going to go back to before 2020,” she said, stating that the nation can no longer pretend that its justice system is fair.

“When Black voters hear ‘Fund the police,’ that’s not going to drive us out to the polls,” she added.

Although Democratic strategists see the “defund the police” movement as a political risk, it doesn’t have to be that way, Abdullah said.

“People want something to believe in, and vision gives us something to believe in. Unfortunately, Democrats on a national level have been unwilling to be courageous and stand in a vision and think about what actually makes the world better. Instead, they’re doing this political calculus that consultants give them,” she said. “Enthusiasm is one of the greatest motivators and mobilizers of a vote. And so if they can give us something to be enthusiastic about, that’s a different approach. And that’s a winning approach.”

The view from Washington

— Twenty-seven documents with classified and top-secret markings were recovered from former President Trump’s office at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, according to a detailed inventory of what the FBI removed during its court-approved search of the home last month, Times writer Sarah D. Wire reported. The eight-page inventory detailing more than 10,000 government documents removed in the search includes the location where each item was found and if it was classified, but not the subject matter.

— A key congressional committee is pushing a federal bill to bolster protections for consumers’ online data privacy, but California lawmakers have launched an aggressive bid to amend or block the legislation because it would unravel the state’s tougher protections. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) delivered a potential death knell for the American Data Privacy and Protection Act late last week when she said it should not be allowed to override California’s law, Times writer Jennifer Haberkorn reported.

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The view from California

— Californians will soon be asked to weigh in on electoral contests that will shape the future of Los Angeles, the state and the nation. Voters — concerned about homelessness, gas prices, crime and the economy — will be inundated with TV ads, mail fliers, texts and robocalls as candidates press their cases. Heavily funded campaigns are also pushing seven ballot measures on issues as varied as abortion, gaming and dialysis. Check out Times writer Seema Mehta’s guide for the state’s midterm election ballot.

— Two months after state lawmakers passed sweeping legislation designed to reduce plastic waste, they’ve ponied up and passed more than a half-dozen new bills that will further reduce and clean up California’s waste stream. If Gov. Gavin Newsom signs the bills — and most observers think he will — a visit to the grocery, electronics or general retail store will fundamentally change for most residents, Times writer Susanne Rust reported.

The view from the campaign trail

— At the start of 2022, the political consensus was that Democrats were toast in the upcoming midterm elections. Yet the chatter among pundits and party strategists now centers on whether the Democrats might avoid a rout this fall — or even, improbably, keep their hold of Congress, Times writer Melanie Mason reported. Recent polls have shown some movement in Democrats’ favor. Since mid-August, Democrats have claimed a slight edge, on average, when voters are asked which party they will back in congressional elections this fall. In pivotal Senate races, Democratic candidates have largely outpolled their opponents, and although the House is a stronger playing field for Republicans, forecasters have revised downward the number of seats they expect the GOP to pick up.

— As the Los Angeles mayoral race heads into its frantic final months, debate organizers have been bickering, Times writer Benjamin Oreskes reported. Two debates — one airing Sept. 21 on Fox 11, with The Times, Univision, KPCC and Loyola Marymount University as partners, and a KNX radio debate Oct. 6 — will be the first general-election meetups between Rep. Karen Bass and businessman Rick Caruso. “Senior administrators” put the kibosh on hosting a debate at the University of Southern California, citing the cost of security, a shortage of personnel and the “escalating tension in modern politics especially as the November election approaches,” according to an Aug. 11 email, Oreskes wrote.

— Nearly 75 years after amending the state Constitution to make it harder to build public housing, California voters will have a chance to repeal the provision on the 2024 ballot, Times writer Liam Dillon reported. The measure will ask voters to do away with Article 34 of the California Constitution, which requires voter approval before public housing is built in a community. Article 34, which passed in 1950, stymied low-income housing construction in California for decades and continues to add to the cost and uncertainty of building affordable housing today. The real estate industry sponsored the 1950 campaign, which appealed to racist fears about integrating neighborhoods and featured heated rhetoric about the need to combat socialism.

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