WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump argued on Twitter that former Vice President Joe Biden can’t get elected president, or woo enough African American voters, because of Biden’s sponsorship of a 1994 crime bill.
“Anyone associated with the 1994 Crime Bill will not have a chance of being elected,” Trump tweeted from Japan during a state visit in Tokyo over the weekend. “In particular, African Americans will not be able to vote for you. I, on the other hand, was responsible for Criminal Justice Reform, which had tremendous support, & helped fix the bad 1994 Bill!”
In a separate tweet, Trump continued, “Super Predator was the term associated with the 1994 Crime Bill that Sleepy Joe Biden was so heavily involved in passing. That was a dark period in American History, but has Sleepy Joe apologized? No!”
During the 2016 election, a Black Lives Matter activist challenged Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton for evoking the term, “super predators,” as a reason her husband Bill Clinton signed the 1994 bill which Biden had sponsored.
In December, Trump signed the First Step Act, which began as a prison reform measure and was expanded to include game-changing sentencing reforms. Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., both 2020 hopefuls, were co-sponsors of the measure.
Biden sponsored the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 — a $30 billion package that funded police officers, state prison construction, three-strikes provisions in federal sentencing and an expansion of the federal crimes eligible for the death penalty. Social-justice activists cite the bill as a driver to what they consider to be America’s “mass incarceration” rate.
Biden rejects criticism
On the campaign trail this year, Biden has bristled at criticism of the 1994 bill. In New Hampshire, Biden said, “This idea that the crime bill generated mass incarceration — it did not generate mass incarceration.”
Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., a rival in the Democratic presidential primary and former California attorney general, recently told reporters that while she has “a great deal of respect” for Biden, the measure “did contribute to mass incarceration in our country” by adding federal three-strikes sentencing and funding more prisons in states.
Eric Sterling of the anti-drug war Criminal Justice Policy Foundation recalled that the 1994 crime bill was a compromise bill that had strong bipartisan support. “Many of the things that are being blamed on it actually came out of the 1986 and 1988 anti-drug bills,” which Biden was “deeply involved” in drafting.
Sterling laughed when a reporter read the Trump tweets, as he recalled Trump’s support for the death penalty for the “Central Park Five,” five black and Hispanic youths convicted of raping a Central Park jogger. Later the convictions were overturned.
Credit to Trump
“We’ve got to give Trump credit where credit is due,” criminal justice reform advocate Van Jones said on CNN, for signing the First Step Act and making it easier for Republicans to vote for a bill to reduce criminal sentences.
In March, Jones thrilled the Conservative Political Action Conference and enraged liberals when he praised Trump and conservative governors for leading on criminal justice sentencing reform.
Trump senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner showed the White House sees an electoral advantage to Trump’s signing of the bill when he told Fox News’ Laura Ingraham, “One statistic that I found very pleasing, is that in Florida, they passed a law where former felons can now vote. We have more ex-felons registered as Republicans than Democrats.”
According to the Sentencing Project, 28 percent of the 1.5 million Florida ex-felons who could not vote in 2016 were black.
According to exit polling, Trump garnered 8 percent of the African-American vote in 2016.
“There is no evidence that this will have any impact on increasing Trump’s share of the black vote from the 8 percent he got in 2016,” Patrick Murray, director of Monmouth University’s Polling Institute, said.
“His approval rating among black voters has consistently been below 10 percent,” Murray said. “In Monmouth’s polling it has held steady at about 6 percent both before and after passage of the criminal justice reform package last year. On the other hand, Biden is very popular with black voters.”
“I think it’s amazing how much Donald Trump keeps focusing on Joe Biden,” GOP strategist Alex Conant told the Review-Journal. “This early in the campaign season, you’d expect an incumbent president to avoid the Democratic primary and let the Democrats beat each other up. Instead, Trump really wants to be in the middle of it. And I think Trump’s attacks on Biden elevate him in the Democratic primary.”
Conant observed that Trump has not gotten enough credit for pushing through the First Step Act “in part because that was signed into law in between the devastating midterm losses and the government shutdown. I would be shocked if most voters know Trump signed criminal justice reform into law.”
A previous version of this story misidentified the subject of a Politifact rating.
According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, some 37 percent of the federal inmate population is black, while blacks account for 13 percent of the U.S. population.