Biden tells civil rights leaders that Republicans weaponized the ‘defund the police’ slogan to ‘beat the hell’ out of Democrats

Joe Biden
President-elect Joe Biden speaks at The Queen theater in Wilmington, Del., Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020. Susan Walsh/AP
  • President-elect Joe Biden told a group of civil rights leaders that Republicans “beat the hell” out of Democrats in 2020 by attacking them over the “defund the police” slogan employed by some activists.

  • Biden made the remarks in a Tuesday Zoom call with several civil rights heavyweights.

  • Audio from the call was leaked to The Intercept.

  • Biden urged the group to avoid pushing for drastic police reform measures ahead of the two US Senate runoff elections in Georgia.

  • “I also don’t think we should get too far ahead ourselves on dealing with police reform in that, because they’ve already labeled us as being ‘defund the police’ anything we put forward in terms of the organizational structure to change policing,” Biden said. 

  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

President-elect Joe Biden warned a group of prominent civil rights leaders that Republicans “beat the hell” out of downballot Democrats in the 2020 election by portraying them as supportive of “defunding” the police in a Tuesday meeting with civil rights leaders, according to audio of the meeting obtained by the Intercept. 

The call included Vice-president elect Sen. Kamala Harris, prominent civil rights advocates including NAACP President Derrick Johnson, National Action Network founder Rev. Al Sharpton, NAACP Education & Legal Defense Fund leader Sherrilyn Ifill, former Department of Justice Civil Rights Division leader Vanita Gupta, and Rep. Cedric Richmond of Louisiana, who is set to join the Biden administration. 

“I also don’t think we should get too far ahead ourselves on dealing with police reform in that, because they’ve already labeled us as being ‘defund the police’ anything we put forward in terms of the organizational structure to change policing – which I promise you, will occur. Promise you,” Biden said during the call.

Police and criminal justice reform became a Nationwide issue earlier this year after the police killings of George Floyd, Breona Taylor, and other Black Americans. Some activists have used the phrasing “defund the police” to describe how they wanted justice and policing reformed in their communities.

“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. We’re talking about holding them accountable,” Biden said. “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.”

Just beore making his remaks about police, Biden responded to a concern from Johnson about nominating Tom Vilsack to serve as Agriculture Secretary, a position Vilsack held for the entire duration of former President Barack Obama’s administration from 2009 to 2017. 

In 2010, Vilsack was criticized for firing Shirley Sherrod, then the Director of Rural Development for the agency, over remarks she made that were deceptively edited by Breitbart News founder Andrew Breitbart. After an uproar over her ouster, Vilsack offered Sherrod a job back at the department, which she declined. 

On January 5, there are two US Senate runoffs taking place in Georgia, which will determine which party controls the US Senate. If Democrats win both seats, control of the Senate will be evenly divided between 50 Democratic caucus members and 50 Republicans with Harris as the tie-breaking vote. 

“If you consider the victory that you appreciated in Georgia, it was around 12,000 votes,” Johnson said. “And so as you consider appointments, you also must consider what impact would that have on voters in the state of Georgia. And I will submit to you that former Secretary Vilsack could have a disastrous impact on voters in Georgia. Shirley Sherrod is a civil rights legend, a hero.”

Biden told Johnson he’d “learn more about Vilsack’s record” before he pivoted to warning the leaders not to go all-in on police reform or promote the “defund the police” slogan ahead of the Georgia runoffs.

While Biden won the presidency with 306 Electoral College votes, Democrats down the ballot didn’t fare as well. Pending the outcome of the Georgia runoffs. Democrats only won back one US Senate seat and lost nine US House seats, according to Decision Desk HQ and Insider.

“President-elect Biden is the same person behind closed doors that he is public; honest, direct and realistic about the challenges facing our nation the day he is sworn in,” a Biden transition official told NBC News about the recording. “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.”

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