As activists call to downsize or abolish police departments, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and her fellow Democrats are taking a risky stand.
Democrats are pouring cold water on the “defund the police” movement and seeking less extreme reforms to combat “systemic racism,” according to Politico, sparking concerns that they may be alienating their progressive base.
“This isn’t about that”
Democrats have been eager to slam President Donald Trump’s response to the unrest over 46-year-old George Floyd’s recent death in police custody as insensitive to protesters, but ironically, their position on defunding the police has them contradicting leftist activist groups like Black Lives Matter, which Democrats have largely treated as an unquestionable authority.
The split is a reflection of wider fault lines on the left between an angry and determined activist base, and a gerontocracy of career lawmakers who are less inclined to risk losing power over politically suicidal legislation.
Indeed, wary of a backlash, Pelosi and her allies in Congress have been at pains to shut down the chatter on defunding police, instead focusing on their comparatively moderate reform bill, as Politico noted.
“We could rebalance some of our funding to address some of those issues more directly,” Pelosi conceded to reporters Monday, according to Politico. “But this isn’t about that and that should not be the story that leaves here.”
Rather than give the radicals everything they want, Pelosi has adopted a strategy of conscious political pandering: the Democrat was widely mocked for having members of her caucus kneel in silence, dressed in elaborate African scarves, on Monday.
Dems dodge a trap?
President Trump, for his part, has attacked the movement to defund police as extreme — forcing the Democrats’ presumptive White House nominee, Joe Biden, who has sought to channel the anger of demonstrators to power his presidential campaign, to distance himself from the proposal.
Republicans have similarly continued to reject calls to defund the police, though Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) seemed to leave things wide open when he said Tuesday that there was “obvious racial discrimination” in policing that called for serious change, as the New York Post reported.
Despite resistance on the right and left, the idea of defunding the police is taking off in big cities like Minneapolis and New York, and it has gotten some support from progressives like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY).
But even lawmakers widely seen as the most radical, like Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), are marching in tune with the music from Pelosi and long-time centrist Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY).
Democrats may have narrowly avoided a trap of their own making for now — but it remains to be seen how the leftist activists will respond to this.