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In dueling crime messages, House Democrats call for police funding, GOP senators blame Biden

Republicans are trying to make the nation's crime rates an issue in the midterm elections.
Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., speaks on Capitol Hill on Feb. 9, 2022.
Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., a former police chief, said Wednesday that the country "must invest in our police departments." Alex Brandon / AP

Democrats and Republicans are both preparing to have crime — and its current rate across the nation — become a focal point of the midterm elections, trying to find a message that will convince voters they will keep them safe.

On Wednesday, that was apparent as House Democrats held a news conference promoting an anti-crime bill that would increase funding for police departments around the country as Republican senators simultaneously held an event blasting Democrats for being "soft on crime."

"We must invest in our police departments," Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., told reporters outside the Capitol. "Public safety is the foundation on which we build great communities."

The push comes as a rise in crime around the country has led the Biden administration to emphasize the measures it’s already taken to combat the problem, and to counter the perception of Democrats being the “defund the police“ party.

The "defund" movement gained traction with some progressive Democrats in the wake of the May 2020 murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, but was opposed by Joe Biden in his presidential campaign.

Demings spoke alongside other House Democrats and law-enforcement officials to garner support for her Violent Incident Clearance and Technological Investigative Methods (VICTIM) Act. The bill would give Justice Department grants to police departments to hire and train more personnel to solve more gun crimes.

"Due to lack of adequate resources, nearly half of America's murders go unsolved. Is anyone really opposed to getting more murderers off the streets?" Demings asked.

The president reiterated his position on crime at an event in New York City last week with Mayor Eric Adams.

“The answer is not to defund the police,” Biden said. “It’s to give you the tools, the training, the funding to be partners, to be protectors. The community needs you.”

Demings took a similar approach in her remarks Wednesday.

"The No. 1 priority has to be the reduction of violent crime," Demings, a former Orlando police chief, said.

As Demings and her colleagues spoke outside the Capitol, a group of Republican senators inside were blaming Democrats for the rise in crime. The rise started during the Trump administration but has continued going up since Biden took office.

“I think President Biden has tolerated a lot of this. An uncharitable person might say that his silence indicates that he’s, at least the administration, is more interested in Super Bowl guacamole than the crime rate," said Sen. John Kennedy, R-La..

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, pointed to 12 cities across the country that broke record homicide rates in 2021, including Toledo, Ohio; Portland, Oregon; and Indianapolis.

“What are those 12 cities have in common? Every single one of them is run by Democrats. All of them,” Cruz said at the news conference. His comments were similar to ones made during the 2020 presidential campaign by then-President Donald Trump, who has referred to the Democrats as the "party of crime."

Cruz said, “The crime that we are seeing surging across this country is a direct result of Democrats' soft on crime policies.”

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, noted that a Politico/Morning Consult poll released Wednesday morning showed that 68 percent of voters said they think increasing funding for police departments would lower crime rates, and suggested that sentiment had to do with the change in tone from his colleagues across the aisle.

"I can see you've heard less about the defunding arguments because the progressives on the left, the Democrats recognize that's a stone-cold loser," Cornyn said.

Despite the rise, national crime rates are nowhere near what they were in the 1990s, and crime ranks low on the list of priorities for most voters.

Nevertheless, Republicans have seized on the issue ahead of this year's midterm elections, with the focus on crime already appeaing in GOP TV ads in such key contests as Wisconsin’s Senate race.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., joined in on the pile-on on the Senate floor, where he said that “the American people know this crime wave is not some spontaneous event."

"It’s been fed and fueled in multiple ways by the Democratic party’s far-left turn.” He called on Democratic lawmakers to “drop the soft-on-crime nonsense and give innocent American families the protection they deserve.”