Joe Biden’s central role in devising a 1994 crime bill during his tenure in the Senate — a measure widely regarded today as a contributor to mass incarceration — was a drag on his presidential campaign in the run-up to the 2020 election.
Nearly 30 years removed from that disaster, conservative Democrats in the House were primed to make the same mistake last week as they tried to pass a pair of police bills before the August recess. And they would've gotten away with it, too, if their progressive colleagues hadn’t stepped in and stopped them.
Fresh off the legislative victory netted from a bill boosting semiconductor production, conservative Democrats sought to pass a package of measures that included an assault weapons ban — as well as a bunch of goodies for police departments.
Here’s how The New Republic broke it down:
“One bill, co-sponsored by Representative Abigail Spanberger, would have provided additional grant funding to hire officers, while another, sponsored by Representative Josh Gottheimer, would have provided assistance for police departments with fewer than 200 officers. Both bills had bipartisan support. But progressive Democrats and members of the Congressional Black Caucus raised concerns about providing funding for police without any accountability measures in place, particularly since no police reform legislation has passed since the racial justice protests that swept the nation in the summer of 2020.”
Morally and politically speaking, sensible Democrats in Congress' Black and progressive caucuses were right to put the kibosh on this plan. If conservative Democrats like Spanberger and Gottheimer want to send a message that they’re unquestionably in police officers’ corner, they need to send that message in a way less likely to have horrible downstream effects on Americans — especially Black Americans. There are mountains of evidence showing that the 1994 crime bill, which allocated billions of dollars in federal funding to police departments and prisons, worsened mass incarceration and precipitated many of the overly aggressive policing tactics we see today.
And Biden’s sponsorship of the bill was a major headwind in the 2020 presidential campaign that many people believe prevented him from getting more support from some young voters, particularly young Black people. Another Biden crime bill wouldn’t help. It’s remarkable that Democrats even considered it, if for no other reason than it shows that some of them were willing to tempt that fate again at a time when their majority in the House is so tenuous. Thankfully, leveler heads — meaning, progressives — prevailed.