Trump to Keep Firing Away at Biden's '94 Crime Bill Support
While in Japan haggling over trade deals and auto tariffs, President Trump paused his international tour, turned his attention stateside, and opened his latest line of attack against the Democrats’ 2020 front-runner. He did it with two tweets.
Both zeroed in on Joe Biden’s crafting and passing of tough-on-crime legislation while chairing the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“Super Predator was the term associated with the 1994 Crime Bill that Sleepy Joe Biden was so heavily involved in passing. That was a dark period in American History, but has Sleepy Joe apologized? No!” Trump wrote.
In the president’s view, Biden is unelectable as a result.
“Anyone associated with the 1994 Crime Bill will not have a chance of being elected. In particular, African Americans will not be able to vote for you. I, on the other hand, was responsible for Criminal Justice Reform, which had tremendous support, & helped fix the bad 1994 Bill!” Trump concluded.
The tweets were sent back-to-back late Monday afternoon before the president boarded Air Force One and flew to a military base in Anchorage, Alaska. But the broadside was not a one-off. Expect more hammering of Biden on crime as that former vice president works to win his party’s nomination.
“We follow President Trump's lead as we move forward,” campaign spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany told RealClearPolitics. “He has clearly made criminal justice reform a priority.”
It is the latest attack and another sign that Trump can’t get Biden off his mind. He has followed the former vice president closely, watching Biden gingerly debate whether to get into the race and then move quickly to the front of the primary pack once he did. Even an ocean away, Trump remained fixated on the Democrat at the top of the polls.
Biden has always enjoyed the spotlight and, while he has the president’s attention, has done his best to brand himself as the quintessential anti-Trump candidate and the de facto nominee. He isn’t, as Trump noted, apologizing for his stance on the 25-year-old crime bill.
While some of the other candidates have offered mea culpas for this past statement or that prior piece of legislation, Biden has stood by his record. On the legislation in question, the former vice president has tried emphasizing its good elements.
“I’m the only guy ever nationally to beat the NRA," he told New Hampshire voters last week. "Because when we did the crime bill — everybody talks about the bad things. Let me tell you about the good thing in the crime bill. It’s the one that had the assault weapons ban, a limited number of bullets in a clip. It made sure that cop-killer bullets, Teflon bullets, weren’t available any longer. It opened up the whole effort to make sure there is background checks for the first time in American history.”
Another good thing in the bill? According to Biden, the drug courts that sent addicts to treatment instead of prison. When the former VP said this in New Hampshire – a state struggling with opioid overdoses -- the crowd cheered.
Not cheering: Bill Clinton. “I signed a bill that made the problem worse," the former president said in a 2015 speech to the NAACP. “And I want to admit it.” The next year, while closing in on the Democratic nomination, Hillary Clinton doubled down on that apology, saying she was “sorry for the consequences that were unintended and that have had a very unfortunate impact on people’s lives.”
Opponents of the law, such as the liberal Center for American Progress, describe it as “a failure” and “one of the cornerstone statutes that accelerated mass incarceration.”
Even Sen. Bernie Sanders has criticized the measure that he helped become law. Thinking back to 1994 during a recent radio interview, he admitted that “you’ve got a bill which has some bad stuff in it.” On the other hand, he pointed to “some good stuff” he was involved with, including a ban on so-called assault weapons and the Violence Against Women Act. “You make a choice,” he concluded.
Trump isn’t the first to attack Biden on crime. Sen. Kamala Harris of California said in May that the legislation contributed to mass incarceration. A harsher Bill de Blasio described it as “a huge mistake” and demanded Biden be held “accountable” for it.
A spokesman for the Biden campaign didn’t respond when asked about the crime bill by RCP. The attacks, however, won’t go away now that Republicans see an opportunity to champion Trump’s actions and put down Biden’s.
“The 1994 crime bill led to mass incarceration, disproportionately affecting black Americans and devastating families across the nation. It took President Trump to undo the injustices of the crime bill and pass landmark criminal justice reform, which remedied sentencing disparities and fixed the inequities in our criminal justice system,” McEnany told RCP.
The Trump campaign has made criminal justice reform, along with the surging U.S. economy, the thrust of its minority outreach, urging black voters to “walk away” from Democrats. Former campaign staffer and Trump confidant Jason Miller told RCP it’s paying off.
Miller noted that Trump won over more black voters in 2016 than Mitt Romney did in 2012 — an increase from 6% of the black vote to over 8%.
“Having passed criminal justice reform and with the economy booming,” he said, “Trump is smart to key in on winning an even larger percentage of African American voters in 2020 and make Joe Biden defend his terrible record.”
There is irony in all of this, the president’s critics are quick to point out.
Trump the candidate promised to be tough on crime, a claim backed up by his record as a prominent citizen: Trump the celebrity had won lasting infamy for wrongly condemning the Central Park Five of rape in the late 1980s and taking out full page ads in New York newspapers demanding a return of the death penalty. Trump the president signed historic criminal justice reform into law.
Boosted by praise from both the left and the right for that bipartisan legislation, he is proffering another somewhat ironic line of attack: The man he may face in the 2020 general election was too tough on criminals.