Civil Rights

What did Joe Biden say about the "defund the police" message?

A leaked audio recording contains comments from the president-elect on the "defund the police" rhetoric, Georgia runoffs and executive powers.

What did Joe Biden say about the "defund the police" message?
MIKE SEGAR REUTERS

In leaked audio, president-elect Joe Biden is heard blaming the “defund the police” messaging for unexpected down-ballot election losses Democrats suffered in the 3 November election.

The agenda of the call addressed issues that have been brought to the fore this year in the US, following a spring and summer that saw the most widespread civil rights protests since the 1960’s, triggered by the videotaped murder in the street of George Floyd in Minneapolis by a white police officer.

What Biden said about defunding the police in the audio

In a two-hour virtual meeting with a group of civil rights leaders on Tuesday 8 December, Biden warned against rhetoric that could prove dangerous going into the Georgia runoff elections on 5 January that will decide control of the Senate. However he was keen to promise that police reform was certainly on the agenda for his first term in office, as part of his pledge to address systemic racism.

"That’s how they beat the living hell out of us across the country, saying that we’re talking about defunding the police. We’re not," Biden said in audio obtained by The Intercept, published Thursday.

The president-elect went on, "we’re talking about giving them money to do the right things. We’re talking about putting more psychologists and psychiatrists on the telephones when the 911 calls through. We’re talking about spending money to enable them to do their jobs better, not with more force, with less force and more understanding."

What Biden said about violating the constitution

In the meeting, Biden was also urged by civil rights leaders to use his executive authority to make significant reforms, such as creating a national database of police misconduct. The president-elect said that he would be able to do some things by executive order, but that there are limits. He pushed back on using his authority against the word of the constitution.

"Our only hope and the way to deal with it is, where I have executive authority, I will use it to undo every single damn thing this guy [President Donald Trump] has done by executive authority, but I’m not going to exercise executive authority where it’s a question..." Biden said, adding "I am not going to violate the Constitution."

"I'm not going to exercise executive authority where it's a question where I can come along and say I can do away with assault weapons. There's no executive authority to do that. And no one has fought harder to get rid of assault weapons than me, me. You can't do it by executive order." Biden added.

What civil rights leaders and Joe Biden’s team said in response

Groups represented at the meeting include the NAACP, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, among others.

Leaders of the groups present said they were pleased after discussing their priorities for racial justice as well as other issues, but that the Biden administration would be judged by its appointees and policies.

In a response to NBS News Bidens transition team did not dispute the authenticity of the audio, stating that Biden is the "same person behind closed doors that he is in public."

"As he made clear throughout the campaign, he believes in supporting bold and urgent reform to our criminal justice system while continuing to support law enforcement's mission to keep our communities safe," the team added.