WILMINGTON, Del. – President-elect Joe Biden seemed to blame the “defund the police” movement for the Democratic losses down the ticket in November, telling civil rights leaders to be cautious on criminal justice issues.
The president-elect appeared to blame the slogan, which was used as fuel for the GOP in the elections down the ticket as they painted Democrats as socialists and communists.
“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 in leaked audio obtained by The Intercept.
Biden met with civil rights leaders on Tuesday and promised that he would follow through on his plans to address systemic racism. However, he warned about “too far ahead of ourselves” with the runoff elections in Georgia set for January 5.
“We can go very far. It matters how we do it. I think it matters how we do it,” Biden said.
Democrats across the board have said Biden should make criminal justice reform a priority once he takes office in the new year but some civil rights leaders want him to to use his executive to take major steps.
Biden repeatedly said on the campaign trail he would be able to do some things by executive order but would not exceed his limits to do anything that would violate the Constitution.
“I am not going to violate the Constitution,” Biden said. “But I’m not going to exercise executive authority where it’s a question where I can come along and say I can do away with assault weapons. There’s no executive authority to do that. And no one has fought harder to get rid of assault weapons than me, me. You can’t do it by executive order.”
Biden was also pressed about his Cabinet picks, specifically about his selection of Tom Vilsack as agriculture secretary.
The Biden transition team did not dispute the audio leak but did release a statement saying the incoming president is the same behind closed doors as he is in public.
“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,” the statement read. “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.”