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Biden sprints away from left's call to 'defund the police'

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks in Philadelphia on June 2. Credit: AP/Matt Rourke

Cops out? Joe's a no 

With President Donald Trump's reelection campaign flailing, Joe Biden's campaign has moved to tap into the energy reflected in the nationwide protests against racism and police brutality with the biggest online ad buys of his candidacy, according to The New York Times.

The former vice president also has evidently concluded the last thing he needs now is to be associated with the "defund the police" slogan, which has caught on in recent days with the Black Lives Matter movement and allied activists, though it means different things to different advocates. To some it's a call for restructuring policing responsibilities and a shift of some funding to social programs; to a majority of the Minneapolis city council, disbanding the existing department; to the most radical, it means exactly what it says as the ultimate goal of a remade American society

Trump tweeted on Sunday night, "Sleepy Joe Biden and the Radical Left Democrats want to “DEFUND THE POLICE.” On Monday, Biden campaign called malarkey.

"As his criminal justice proposal made clear months ago, Vice President Biden does not believe that police should be defunded," said Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates. "He hears and shares the deep grief and frustration of those calling out for change and is driven to ensure that justice is done and that we put a stop to this terrible pain."

Biden elaborated in a CBS News interview: "No, I don't support defunding the police. I support conditioning federal aid to police based on whether or not they meet certain basic standards of decency and honorableness and ... are able to demonstrate they can protect the community,” His criminal justice proposal called for more police funding — $300 million to support community policing effort — and Bates said the presumptive Democratic nominee also wants funding for public schools, summer programs, and mental health and substance abuse treatment separate from policing "so that officers can focus on the job of policing.”

The Rev. Al Sharpton, a longtime activist against police racial bias, allowed on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" that "defund the police" may not be the best message: "The slogan may be misleading without interpretation. I don’t think that anyone, other than the far extremes, are saying we don’t want any kind of policing at all, any kind of public safety.” He said the idea is more to reform “policing as we know it.”

Also on Monday, Biden met privately for more than an hour in Houston with the family of George Floyd, whose death in police custody led to nationwide protests. One family attorney, Benjamin Crump, tweeted, "He listened, heard their pain, and shared in their woe. That compassion meant the world to this grieving family." Another family attorney, Chris Stewart, posted on Instragram: "He expressed his sympathies and promised to push for changes in policing. The world is watching and we want action on all promises nothing less."

Poll slide

Trump's own internal polling shows him falling behind Biden in battleground states, according to several reports, and outside polling also shows a growing gap nationally. But when a new CNN poll on Monday showed the Democrat ahead by 14 points, and Trump's approval rating sunken to 38%, the president was so perturbed he ordered an investigation.

"I have retained highly respected pollster, McLaughlin & Associates, to analyze todays CNN Poll (and others), which I felt were FAKE based on the incredible enthusiasm we are receiving. Read analysis for yourself," Trump tweeted.

Pollster John McLaughin gave Trump what he wanted, arguing the CNN poll, as well as surveys by NBC and ABC, were "skewed" and that "must be intentional."

Trump referred to McLaughlin as "highly respected." But his record is spotty. In 2014, national Republicans warned candidates to stay away from him after over-optimistic polling led in several races to surprise GOP disappointments.

Democrats unveil policing package

Congressional Democratic leaders proposed a far-reaching overhaul of police procedures and accountability Monday in response to the mass protests denouncing the deaths of black Americans in the hands of law enforcement.

“We cannot settle for anything less than transformative structural change,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, drawing on the nation’s history of slavery.

Among its provisions, the Justice in Policing Act would scale back legal protections for police, create a national database of excessive-force incidents and ban police choke holds. It would revise the federal criminal police misconduct statute to make it easier to prosecute officers who are involved in “reckless” misconduct and it would change “qualified immunity” protections to more broadly enable damage claims against police in lawsuits.

The outlook for the legislation in the GOP-controlled Senate was slim as many Republicans sought to align themselves with Trump's "law and order" message and against "defunding" police, which is not in the Democrats' proposal. House Republicans also are crying foul that Democrats wrote the bill with very little input from the GOP, even as Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California declared last week he was “ready to work” on the issue.

At the White House, Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany had no point-by-point comment but said reducing immunity for police was a non-starter.

Pelosi, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and other participants wore African kente cloth stoles at their announcement — a fashion choice that drew some mockery from skeptical African American Twitter commenters, CNN reported.

Trump: Police do 'fantastic' job

Trump and senior aides held a roundtable meeting with an assortment of law enforcement officials and offered no specific ideas to address complaints about racial bias in policing. He said the vast majority of police do "fantastic" work.

"We want to make sure we don't have any bad actors in there, and sometimes, you'll see some horrible things like we witnessed recently, but 99 — I say 99.9, but let's go with 99% of them are great, great people, and they've done jobs that are record setting," Trump said. He said discussion will continue on how policing can be done "in a lot more gentle fashion."

If he meant that, it would mark an attitude adjustment. In a July 2017 speech on Long Island to law enforcement officers, the president told them it was OK “not to be too nice” and to be “rough” when throwing suspects “into the back of a paddy wagon.” For example, he said when pushing "thugs" into a squad car, don't worry about protecting their head from banging against the door frame. “You can take the hand away, OK?" he said.

White House officials have been debating internally whether Trump should make a speech to the nation on the issue, according to CNN.

See the sea change

Veteran Republican pollster Frank Luntz said there has been a profound and possibly lasting shift in national opinion from revulsion over the Floyd killing, leading to a majority belief that African Americans are more likely to be targets of excessive police force.
"In my 35 years of polling, I’ve never seen opinion shift this fast or deeply," Luntz tweeted. "We are a different country today than just 30 days ago. The consequences politically, economically, and socially are too great to fit into a tweet. This is big. This is ‘Beatles on Ed Sullivan’ big."

Will Trump knee the NFL again?

Three years ago, NFL players' kneeling protests against police brutality during the National Anthem became a Trump rally cry as he urged team owners to respond: "Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!’” The president also encouraged a fan boycott.

Now Trump seems ready to revisit the fight after New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees renounced his criticism of such protests (“He should not have taken back his original stance," Trump tweeted) and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said the league was “wrong” for not listening to players earlier about inequality and police misconduct.”

Washington Redskins running back Adrian Peterson told the Houston Chronicle he expects many players to kneel in the upcoming season. "We've got to put the effort in as a group collectively," he said. "Are they going to try to punish us all? If not, playing football is going to help us save lives and change things, then that's what it needs to be."

Trump continues to label anthem protests as unpatriotic. He tweeted Sunday night: "Could it be even remotely possible that in Roger Goodell’s rather interesting statement of peace and reconciliation, he was intimating that it would now be O.K. for the players to KNEEL, or not to stand, for the National Anthem, thereby disrespecting our Country & our Flag?"

Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Monday that she had "no information" on whether Trump would again advocate firing players for anthem protests, but she said "the president is very much against kneeling in general." 

Bunker 'inspection' was bunk?

Remember Trump's story that he was just doing an inspection when the Secret Service escorted him to a secure underground bunker while protesters were outside the White House on May 29.

Attorney General William Barr didn't follow that script on Monday.

"Things were so bad, the Secret Service recommended the president go down to the bunker," Barr said in an interview with Fox News. We can’t have that in our country." Flashing back to what Trump said: "I went down during the day, and I was there for a tiny little short period of time, and it was much more for an inspection, there was no problem during the day."

Coronavirus news

See a roundup of the latest pandemic developments from Long Island and beyond by Newsday's reporting staff, written by Bart Jones. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.

What else is happening:

  • Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer wrote to Trump calling on him to "tear down" the new fencing erected last week around Washington's Lafayette Square to keep out protesters. The square "has long been a venue where Americans can gather to freely exercise their constitutional rights in close proximity to the White House," they said. McEnany said the Secret Service and Park Police, not the White House, control that decision.
  • McEnany said there were "no regrets on the part of the White House" for forcibly driving out the protesters in the square with pepper balls and other devices on the night of June 1, which cleared the way for Trump's photo op at St. John's Episcopal Church. She also said, “Many of those decisions were not made here within the White House," and that protesters had disregarded three warnings to leave — an account contradicted by reporters who were at the scene.
  • The Washington Post assembled an extensive video reconstruction of the Lafayette Square crackdown.
  • In a reversal, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy and Defense Secretary Mark Esper are open to the possibility of renaming bases and facilities currently named after Confederate leaders, an Army spokeswoman told Politico. Trump in the past has sympathized with those wanting to preserve Confederate monuments, an issue that led to the deadly confrontation in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017 that saw neo-Nazis and white supremacists faced off against counter-protesters.
  • Trump is planning to restart campaign rallies that were shut down by coronavirus in the next two weeks, Politico reported. His advisers are still determining where the rallies will take place and what safety measures will be implemented, depending on the type of venue chosen.
  • The Trump campaign withdrew a space-themed ad following complaints it violated NASA's rules on being used for advertising. Former astronaut Karen Nyberg also objected to her video image appearing in "political propaganda without my knowledge or consent." Nyberg is the wife of Doug Hurley, one of the astronauts carried to space in the SpaceX launch that Trump watched.
  • In two months as press secretary, McEnany has proved willing to defend her boss’ view of himself as well as his most flagrant misstatements, The Associated Press writes in a profile. Her performance has won plaudits from the president and his staff.

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