What Joe Biden's Potential Vice Presidential Picks Say About Defunding the Police

As activists rallied this past weekend to "defund the police" after the death of George Floyd by a Minnesota police officer, Former Vice President Joe Biden largely stayed silent about his stance on the issue.

However, by Monday, President Donald Trump pressed Biden to answer the claim that Biden's silence meant he agreed with the movement. And in doing that, he opened up major new ground in the presidential race, seizing on it to paint Biden and the Democratic Party as fully on board with the movement.

The answer, Biden's campaign said in a statement to Newsweek, is that he "does not believe that police should be defunded." He also planned to meet with Floyd's family privately Monday before his funeral, and also recently knelt while speaking with a protester.

Biden, spokesman Andrew Bates told Newsweek, supports "the urgent need for reform—including funding for public schools, summer programs, and mental health and substance abuse treatment separate from funding for policing—so that officers can focus on the job of policing."

Biden, he said, supported funding community policing programs that improve relationships between officers and residents, and provide the training that is needed to avert "tragic, unjustifiable deaths" and diversifying police departments, but activists protesting on the ground were clearly annoyed he wouldn't support them in the fight to defund police departments.

"That's no surprise, he's running for an office that would make him chief over one of the biggest world police forces—the military," Amika Tendaji, of Black Lives Matter Chicago, told Newsweek. "If Minneapolis city council can think about dismantling and rebuilding for public safety, Biden can take on the message of defunding the police and putting those resources into programs communities need like affordable housing."

Still, such criticism comes after a week of good political news for Biden. His lead widened to a sizable 14-point margin among registered voters in a new CNN poll Monday, and he doubled his lead to 12 points in the battleground of Michigan.

Those numbers indicate that as the call to defund the police—or reallocate funding from police to community programs—grows nationally, lawmakers are being pressed to radically rethink their approaches to criminal justice. How policing in the U.S. will look going forward could now play a critical role in who Biden chooses for his running mate.

But his top picks, with the exception of Senator Kamala Harris, largely demurred or did not respond to Newsweek's request for comment about the issue.

After a press conference with House Democrats announcing new police reform legislation to change how police misconduct is prosecuted and would allow individual cops to be sued, Harris told Meaghan McCain defunding the police is complicated.

"How are you defining defund the police?" Harris, a former prosecutor, responded, before saying the country needs to reimagine how it is achieving public safety in America.

"To have cities where one-third of their entire budget is going into policing but yet there is a dire need in those same cities for mental health resources, for resources going into public schools, resources going into job training and job creation, come on," Harris said. "We have to be honest about this."

Florida Congresswoman Val Demings, the former chief of the Orlando police department, who is also on Biden's shortlist for VP, said the varied proposals come from people's pain and anger over what happened to Floyd. She said the Minneapolis city council's move to dismantle the police department was "thoughtful" about reviewing what falls under police purview, including natural disasters and terrorism.

Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, who has been dogged by her record as prosecutor and race issues as VP speculation has grown in recent weeks, declined to respond to a request for comment before publication.

Former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren also did not respond to requests for comment.

In Atlanta, where two police officers were fired for excessive force at the end of May, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has not commented publicly on defunding police, but set a June 18 deadline for recommendations to reform the police department's use-of-force policy, which was not set to be reviewed until 2022.

The Biden campaign statement did not appear to change the political calculation for the Trump campaign, which released a missive in the late afternoon that said Biden dispatched "a mid-level campaign staffer" to address the defunding police questions.

"It seems all Biden can do is hide behind his campaign staff's weak statement that fails to even acknowledge the sacrifices police officers of all colors have made to protect their communities in recent days," spokesman Andrew Clark said.

defund police
People walk down 16th street after “Defund The Police” was painted on the street near the White House on June 08, 2020 in Washington, DC. After days of protests in DC over the death of George Floyd, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser has renamed that section of 16th street "Black Lives Matter Plaza." Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images/Getty