President-elect Joe Biden this week urged a group of civil rights activists to remain quiet about plans to overhaul policing until after two Senate runoff elections in Georgia next month.
According to Joe Biden, the Republicans would try to distort their position on the issue and “beat the living hell out of us.”
“That’s how they beat the living hell out of us across the country, saying that we’re talking about defunding the police,” Mr. Biden told the Black representatives of several interest groups, according to the audio of the meeting obtained by The Intercept. “We’re not. We’re talking about holding them accountable.”
Mr. Biden made the comments as he prepares to travel to Georgia next week to campaign for Jon Ossoff and the Rev. Raphael Warnock.
The two Democrats who would give Mr. Biden’s party a slim majority in the Senate if they won the Jan. 5 runoffs, New York Times reported.
The remarks came during a sometimes contentious, closed-door session on Tuesday in which the civil rights leaders pressed Mr. Biden to pick more Black nominees for his cabinet and for other top White House posts.
On the issue of policing reform — a subject about which many groups had been wary of Mr. Biden given his history of pushing for tough criminal justice laws when he was a senator — the president-elect suggested that the activists tread carefully.
“I also don’t think we should get too far ahead of ourselves on dealing with police reform in that, because they’ve already labeled us as being ‘defund the police,’” he said. “Anything we put forward in terms of the organizational structure to change policing — which I promise you, will occur. Promise you. Just think to yourself and give me advice whether we should do that before Jan. 5.
An official for Mr. Biden’s transition, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations with the president-elect, downplayed the significance of the conversation.
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 official said. “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.”
Mr. Biden’s warnings on the “defund” slogan echo those of other Democrats, including former President Barack Obama.