WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden plans to lay out new steps to stem a rising national tide of violent crime, with a particular focus on gun violence, as administration officials brace for what they fear could be an especially turbulent summer.
The worry over crime is real: It has created economic hardship, displacement and anxiety. But there are also tricky politics at play. The spike in crime has become a Republican talking point and has been a frequent topic of conversation on conservative media.
White House aides believe that Biden, with his long legislative record on crime as a former senator, is not easy to paint as soft on the issue, and the president has been clear that he is opposed to the “defund the police” movement, which has been effectively used against other Democrats to paint them as anti-law enforcement. But Biden also is trying to boost progressives' efforts to reform policing. And while combating crime and reforming the police don't have to be at odds with each other, the two efforts are increasingly billed that way.
In a speech on Wednesday, Biden is to unveil a series of executive orders aimed at reducing violence, and he will renew his calls for Congress to pass gun legislation, aides said. Ahead of the speech, the Justice Department announced new strike forces aimed at tackling gun trafficking in five cities.
The White House also planned to convene a meeting Wednesday with Attorney General Merrick Garland; the Democratic mayors of Baltimore and Miami-Dade County and the Republican mayor of Rapid City, South Dakota; the Democratic attorney general of New Jersey; the police chief in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; and community activists. White House staff members have also been in touch with legislators and congressional staff.
“Yes, there need to be reforms of police systems across the country. The president is a firm believer in that," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday. "But there are also steps he can take as president of the United States to help address and hopefully reduce that crime. A big part of that, in his view, is putting in place gun safety measures ... using the bully pulpit but also using levers at his disposal as president.”
In April, Biden announced a half-dozen executive actions on gun control, including cracking down on “ghost guns,” homemade firearms that lack serial numbers used to trace them and that are often purchased without a background check.
There is also new federal funding from the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package directed toward municipal governments, allowing them to keep more police officers on the street. Aides said Biden would also urge a swift confirmation of his choice to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
But Biden is limited in his power to act alone. The House passed two bills requiring background checks on all firearms sales and transfers and allowing an expanded 10-day review for gun purchases. But that legislation faces strong headwinds in the Senate, where some Republican support would be needed for passage.
Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said Tuesday that she has seen double-digit increases in murder and violent crime nationwide.
“It is staggering. It is sobering,” she said at a violent-crime forum held by the Washington-based Police Executive Research Forum. “And it’s something that DOJ is committed to do all we can to reverse what are profoundly troubling trends.”
Monaco said the Justice Department would launch strike forces in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., to help reduce violent crime by addressing illegal gun trafficking, building on an initiative begun last month.