President Donald Trump’s campaign has released another TV ad that dishonestly tries to raise fears about former Vice President Joe Biden’s views on policing.
The ad released Monday, the latest in a series of similarly fear-mongering ads from the Trump campaign, suggests that a Biden presidency would result in 911 calls from senior citizens going unanswered.
That is just nonsense.
Facts First: Biden has not proposed anything that could result in 911 calls no longer being answered. He has repeatedly and explicitly opposed the idea of “defunding the police,” and he has proposed a $300 million increase in federal funding for community policing. Biden has not specifically weighed in on a proposal for a 50% cut to Seattle’s police budget, which the ad insinuates he supports.
The ad relies on a single Biden comment to a progressive activist during a video chat earlier this month, in which Biden suggested he was “yes, absolutely” open to redirecting some police funding toward social services, mental health counseling and affordable housing.
We’ll lay out the context for that comment below. But even if you interpret Biden’s “yes, absolutely” in a way that is charitable to the Trump campaign, nothing Biden has said comes close to justifying the Trump campaign’s terrifying vision of a Biden presidency.
Biden spokesman Andrew Bates said Trump is “desperate to run against a fictitious opponent instead of Joe Biden.” Bates said Trump is a “chronic liar” and “the most lawless president in American history.” He also noted, as Biden did at a fundraiser on Monday night, that Trump has himself proposed cuts to federal funding for community policing.
The ad’s picture of a Biden presidency
The ad, which the Trump campaign said would air in key states and also be part of national ad buys, shows an elderly woman at home watching a news broadcast that is talking about a proposal to reduce Seattle’s police budget by 50% and transfer management of its 911 call center to an entity other than the police department.
The woman then notices that an intruder is scurrying around outside her door, and she begins to dial 911. In the background, Fox News host Sean Hannity says, “Joe Biden said he’s absolutely on board with defunding the police. Listen closely.” Biden’s voice says, “Yes, absolutely.” The ad shows a darkened, empty office with unmanned phones.
As the intruder breaks in, an automated message says, “Hello, you’ve reached 911. I’m sorry that there is no one here to answer your emergency call. But leave a message, and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.”
The words “you won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America” come on screen as the intruder confronts the woman. The phone falls to the ground.
What Biden has said
Nothing Biden has said makes it plausible to argue that he supports an America in which 911 calls are allowed to go unanswered. (This already happens on rare occasions in Trump’s America because of staffing or technology problems.)
Biden has been attacked in other Trump ads for his tough-on-crime past positions as a senator for Delaware. And Biden has repeatedly described himself – including at the Monday fundraiser – as an opponent of the idea of “defunding the police,” saying he prefers instead to condition federal police funding on whether local departments meet standards for good conduct and introduce needed reforms.
Biden has largely limited his recent comments on policing to these federal funds. In June, though, he said decisions about local police budgets should depend on the needs of particular communities, since some departments have too many officers and some don’t have enough.
That is not the rhetoric of the far left. Indeed, Biden has been criticized by some police-defunding advocates for not adopting their position.
The conversation with Ady Barkan
The “yes, absolutely” quote that the Trump campaign has seized on came during a video chat Biden did with progressive activist Ady Barkan, who was endorsing Biden.
Biden told Barkan that his campaign proposals are not equivalent to defunding the police. Biden rejected the suggestion of deploying only non-officers in response to calls for help, emphasizing that you cannot just send a social worker to the scene of a potentially violent domestic incident. Instead, he said, you should send both an officer and the social worker. (Those comments were left out of the published video, but the audio was provided to CNN by the Biden campaign.)
Biden made the “yes, absolutely” comment after he criticized the transfer of surplus military vehicles to local police departments. Barkan, pressing him, said, “But do we agree that we can redirect some of the funding?” Biden said “yes, absolutely.” Then, in comments also left out of the published video, Biden returned immediately to his previous proposal about putting conditions on federal funding.
“And by the way, not just redirect – condition them,” he said.
Biden then noted that the federal funding he is talking about putting conditions on is not the main source of police budgets, which largely come from local and state governments.
“It’s only the federal government comes in on top of that, and so it says, ‘You want help? You have to do the following reforms: you have to make sure you have no-knock warrants eliminated. If you have them, you don’t get Byrne grants. If you have them, boom,” Biden said.
The Trump campaign is entitled to denounce Biden for saying he is “absolutely” open to redirecting some police funding. Regardless of Biden’s other remarks, he did, vaguely, leave open the door to some budget reductions of some sort.
But, again, there was no call from Biden to slash police budgets to the extent that there would be nobody working at a 911 dispatch center.