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House Republicans who opposed Covid aid still see funds flow to local police departments

Both parties are increasingly talking about thinning police ranks and violent crime as the summer heats up.

House Republicans who opposed the $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief bill continue to see the benefits in their communities, and Democrats want to remind voters they are getting federal aid despite — and not because of — their elected officials.

As violent crime incidents have increased ahead of the summer, Democrats and Republicans are already trading accusations of responsibility for thinning police ranks.

As part of that effort, Democrats are highlighting communities in at least 10 districts represented by House Republicans considering or utilizing funds from the American Rescue Plan — specifically its $350 billion pot of money to help cash-strapped state and local governments — to bolster police departments. Without the money, Democrats argue, those departments would suffer.

The 10 members include: House Republican Conference Chairwoman Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., and Reps. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas; Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash.; David Kustoff, R-Tenn.; Sam Graves, R-Mo.; Steve Chabot, R-Ohio; John Katko, R-N.Y.; Victoria Spartz, R-Ind.; Doug Lamborn, R-Colo.; and Andy Biggs, R-Ariz.

"House Republicans voted against the funding their communities needed to keep police officers on the beat," Robyn Patterson, deputy communications director for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement. "If Republicans are looking for politicians who have voted to defund police departments, they only need to look in the mirror."

The state of police departments and crime are likely to remain hot button political issues for the foreseeable future.

The Black Lives Matter movement embraced calls to "defund the police" amid last year's racial justice protests following George Floyd's death, pushing local governments to demilitarize police agencies and shift funding instead to community programs targeting issues like mental health and homelessness.

But Republicans turned the "defund the police" mantra into an attack line, arguing Democrats wanted to make communities less safe by taking police off the street and allowing lawlessness. The GOP sought to tie all of the Democratic Party to the most fringe demands of the left.

The criticism from the right has grown louder in recent months as violent crime rates have risen. The New York Times reported the homicide rates in big cities increased more than 30 percent on average in the past year while police retirements and resignations increased by 45 percent and 18 percent from April 2020 through this past April.

Crime typically increases during the warm summer months, so the upward trend may not be over.

Last week, President Joe Biden, who as a candidate proposed boosting police funding, tied the spike in crime to the Covid-19 pandemic and easy access to guns, in unveiling his new anti-crime plan.

Meanwhile, Republicans point to cities controlled by Democrats that have lessened police funding as the reason.

"Democrat-run cities are defunding police departments all across the country RIGHT NOW, but instead of condemning these cities, the Biden administration is falsely claiming Republicans are for defunding the police," Tommy Pigott, a Republican National Committee spokesperson, said in one of the organization's many crime-related releases in recent weeks.

During an interview with "Fox News Sunday" this week, host Chris Wallace pressed Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., on whether Republicans bore responsibility for "defunding" police departments by not voting for Biden's stimulus.

"Congressman Banks, you voted against that package, against the $350 billion, just like every other Republican in the House and Senate, so can't you make the argument that it’s you and the Republicans who are defunding the police?" Wallace asked.

"Not at all," Banks said. He argued it was more about rhetoric than dollars.

"What I'm saying is if we are serious about reducing violent crime in America, then Joe Biden will go on a national public relations campaign to admonish the radical voices in the Democrat party that stigmatize police officers and law enforcement," Banks said.

Late last year, Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., who was seeking to include state and local funding in a previous aid package, framed the need around saving the jobs of first responders and other local employees.

"This about taking care of first responders," Cassidy, who ultimately voted against Biden's package, told CNBC in December. "I don’t want to be the guy defunding the police."