Reporter’s Notebook: Democrats battle crime as pressing issue heading into midterms

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Democrats have a problem heading into the midterms.

And Republicans know it.

It’s crime.

Over the summer, House Democrats planned to strengthen police funding before the midterm elections. But such a package to beef up policing – and neuter the GOP’s “soft on crime” mantra – hinged on something else important to Democrats: police reform.

House and Senate Democrats began pushing legislation to reform law enforcement since the death of George Floyd in the spring of 2020. Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., and Sen. Tim Scott, RS.C., worked behind the scenes to forge a compromise on police reform.

It never came.

Crime scene tape is stretched around the front of a home where a man was shot on May 28, 2017, in Chicago, Illinois.

Crime scene tape is stretched around the front of a home where a man was shot on May 28, 2017, in Chicago, Illinois.
(Scott Olson/Getty Images)

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House Democrats are now attempting to merge a package of bills to help the police – but also impose police reforms. The party could never quite get the right mix to command the votes of both moderate and progressive Democrats. Obviously some on the left want to impose stricter rules and penalties for police to prevent future episodes like George Floyd and hold bad officers to account. The proposals by moderate Democrats to enhance law enforcement was anathema to some on the left.

“There is no urgency,” said House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, DS.C., when asked last week about the police bills. “There were some people who wanted them to come up. They weren’t scheduled to come up.”

Clyburn suggested that the House would consider the bills before the midterms. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said Wednesday that the chamber will bring four public safety bills aimed at reforming and enhancing police to the floor on Thursday.

Still, Republicans believe Democratic inaction on crime and police is a gift that keeps on giving.

“I think that Rep. Clyburn misses the urgency here,” said Sen. Bill Hagerty, R-Tenn. “I’m just shocked that our Democrat colleagues don’t seem to want to see because it’s obvious across America that we’ve got crime running at rampant rates.”

Following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, a protest in downtown Charlotte, North Carolina, turned violent on May 31, 2020.

Following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, a protest in downtown Charlotte, North Carolina, turned violent on May 31, 2020.
(Peter Zay/Anadolu Agency via Getty)

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Inflation and the economy rank as the top subjects which worry voters ahead of this fall’s midterm issues. But crime rivals pocketbook subjects. Republicans pin the uptick in crime on Democrats. Republicans are sure to remind voters about the left-wing chant to defund the police. The GOP accuses progressive prosecutors of coddling criminals.

“This has been an intentional strategic campaign from the far left. And now Americans are being robbed, carjacked, assaulted and murdered,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

McConnell’s attack is typical for the GOP when it comes to the police issue.

“Republicans have been effective in terms of pouncing on that and using it in light of public concerns about the increase in crime and to really use it as a weapon against the Democrats in terms of this year’s midterm elections,” said political scientist Michael Bitzer at Catawba College in North Carolina. “The inconsistency of the messaging, particularly when the Democrats are having to defend so many seats and control of Congress, really is a kind of head scratcher in terms of campaign strategy.”

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Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., is a moderate who is one of the most vulnerable Democrats facing re-election this fall. Spanberger chastised liberals in late 2020 about their defund the police rhetoric and how it nearly cost Democrats control of the House.

“I grew up in a law enforcement family. And for me, the sacrifice and uncertainty that that comes with, those sorts of commitments to service, is one that I am always, always going to be grateful for,” said Spanberger.

Spanberger says the key to better policing is recruitment and training. And that costs money.

“Recruit the best. The best can train police officers across the board and retain them,” said Spanberger.

But Fox is told that Spanberger’s bill won’t be part of an upcoming police package.

“We’re going to continue to lean in to create safer communities,” promised House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries, DN.Y. “There are ongoing conversations in terms of how do we continue to strengthen the relationship between the police and the community. And I expect that those conversations will bear fruit.”

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In particular, Jeffries noted the firearms/mental health bill that Congress approved over the summer – the most significant gun bill OK’d by lawmakers in nearly three decades.

Congressional Democrats hoped to prop up support for the police. Passing a pro-police bill would defang the “defund the police” refrain as a political liability.

Democrats insist they were the party which funded the police – via the partisan, $1.9 trillion COVID bill Congress OK’d last year. So Democrats now take their aim at Republicans.

“It’d be nice if the other side were cooperating more on that. Unfortunately, we’re faced with a MAGA Republican Party that’s calling on us to defund the FBI,” said Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, DN.Y., who leads the Democrats’ political efforts in the House. “We think that’s crazy.”

Fox News predicts the outcome for the November midterm elections

Fox News predicts the outcome for the November midterm elections
(Fox News)

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This ties the debate on both sides with election year politics.

“Certainly, Republicans are going after the defund the police initiative. But Joe Biden has turned around and said, ‘Well, you are trying to defund things like the FBI from the far right.’ So I think both sides are trying to frame the issues in ways that best appeal, particularly to moderate swing voters,” said Bitzer. “Both sides are trying to go to the extremes to instill fear, to threaten voters, to make them fearful of the other side and bring that to the advantage of them in November’s vote.”

“Democrats can’t escape the reality. The rising crime. The open borders,” said Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., who faces a competitive re-election bid this fall. “That’s what this election is all about.”

Johnson is right to a degree. The election is all about what both parties want it to be about.

Democrats hope the election focuses on abortion and threats to democracy in the aftermath of last year’s Capitol riot. The endorsements by former President Trump of various House and Senate candidates – coupled with him again dominating the news cycle after Mar-a-Lago – isn’t what Republicans want to talk about. If the election drifts in that direction, Democrats could be in luck this fall.

But an election about inflation, the economy and crime boosts Republicans.

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Could passing a police bill help Democrats? Sura. But that hasn’t happened just yet.

That phenomenon could sum up the election in a nutshell because Democrats never changed the narrative about the economy and crime.