Is President Joe Biden getting tough on crime?

Biden said last week he will sign a Republican-led bill that blocks a District of Columbia law lowering some criminal penalties, and his budget, released Thursday, includes $19.4 billion to be paid out over 10 years for crime prevention strategies.

“Look, one thing that the president believes in is making sure that the streets in America and communities across the country are safe,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters last Thursday. “That includes D.C. That does not change.”

The D.C. bill had been vetoed by the District’s Mayor Muriel Bowser, a Democrat, but Biden’s decision to support blocking it upset some of his party, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, who tweeted, “This ain’t it.” Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, a nonvoting delegate in the House who represents D.C., said at a rally for the bill, “What is happening in Congress is undemocratic.”

The White House defended its record on crime after releasing Biden’s proposed budget, saying in a statement the administration “has taken decisive and historic action to make America’s communities safer.”

Last year, Biden signed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, a gun violence prevention bill that funded $2 billion for community-based violence prevention initiatives and expanded background checks to purchase a firearm for those under 21, among other measures. The White House said funding earmarked in Biden’s budget for fighting crime “builds on this progress.”

President Joe Biden speaks during a meeting on reducing gun violence, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, July 12, 2021, in Washington. | Evan Vucci, Associated Press

Crime is an important issue for many voters, and voters tend to be more trusting of Republicans’ handling of crime.

A Pew Research Center poll taken before last year’s midterm election found 61% of registered voters said violent crime was a very important issue when making their decision who to vote for for Congress. A 39% plurality of voters said they believe Republicans are better on solving crime compared with 30% who said Democrats, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released last year.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot lost her reelection this year to a moderate Democrat who campaigned on public safety and supporting police. New York City Mayor Eric Adams called Lightfoot’s loss “a warning sign for the country.”

“America, we have to be safe,” Adams told CNN Sunday. He called public safety “a prerequisite to prosperity.”

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Biden walks a fine line in his handling of crime ahead of a potential reelection campaign. During his State of the Union address, he said, “I know most cops are good, decent people. They risk their lives every time they put on that shield,” but added what happened to Tyre Nichols, a man killed by Memphis police, “happens too often.”

“We have to do better,” Biden said during his address. “Give law enforcement the training they need, hold them to higher standards, and help them succeed in keeping everyone safe.”

Biden’s record on crime includes supporting a 1994 crime bill that would later be blamed for increasing mass incarceration. Amid calls to “defund the police” during the 2020 race, Biden called for the opposite, campaigning for millions of dollars in investments for police.