Jul 12, 2021 - Politics & Policy

White House's tough-on-crime message: Use COVID funds

Biden and Merrick Garland

Biden delivers a speech on gun violence with Attorney General Merrick Garland. Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

With crime surging around the country, the Biden administration is telling local officials how to use some of the $1.9 trillion in COVID relief funds to bolster their police departments.

Driving the news: That guidance is spelled out in a White House memo obtained by Axios ahead of President Biden's meeting today with law enforcement and elected officials from around the country — including Eric Adams, New York City's Democratic mayoral nominee and former police captain, who's openly critical of his own party.

  • Chicago superintendent of police David O'Neal Brown and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser also will be among the participants.

The big picture: Democrats are concerned that violence and lawlessness could affect Biden's presidency and their political fortunes in the midterm elections.

  • Homicides jumped 30% in some large cities last year and this summer is already off to a deadly start, with Chicago witnessing more than 100 shootings over the July 4th weekend.

The intrigue: Adams has railed against fellow Democrats for focusing on national gun control and police reform legislation instead of directly addressing crime in blighted neighborhoods, calling those priorities “misplaced.”

  • He told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union” on Sunday, "It's almost insulting what we have witnessed over the last few years." Adams points to a new path for Democrats to navigate the police issue, Axios has reported.
  • But in the CNN interview, Adams also praised Biden. “It took this president to state that it is time for us to stop ignoring what is happening in the south sides of Chicago, in the Brownsvilles, in the Atlantas of our country," he said.

Details: The memo's subject line leaves little mystery about how the White House is seeking to position itself: “How Local and State Government Can — and Should — Use the President’s Gun Crime Reduction Strategy and Historic Rescue Plan Funding to Improve Public Safety.”

  • It makes clear that COVID funds may be used for law enforcement and commends several cities that are doing so.
  • It was written by Domestic Policy Council director Susan Rice; Gene Sperling, who's monitoring the $1.9 trillion in COVID relief spending; and Julie Rodriguez, the director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs.
  • Attorney General Merrick Garland will join Biden for the Monday meeting. The invitation to Adams was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.

Flashback: In June, when Biden first explained that states and localities could use some of the $350 billion in local COVID money for law enforcement, he also touted traditional Democratic efforts on gun control and announced a new plan to crack down on gun dealers.

The bottom line: Monday’s event is another attempt by the White House to show that it is aware of a national crime problem and that Biden is considering all his policy options to address it.

  • But inviting Adams to White House could expose an emerging Democratic divide.

Read the memo.

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