Democrats Wrestle With 'Tough On Crime' Histories

Democratic presidential hopefuls, including former Vice President Joe Bidenand Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) are wrestling with their past “tough on crime” positions as the primary battle heats up.

Biden, the frontrunner for his party’s nomination, has seen his role in the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act come under deep scrutiny.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Biden have engaged in a heated battle all week over issues of criminal justice, with the former Newark mayor offering pointed criticism of Biden’s past support for the crime bill. Booker said Biden’s crime bill had put “mass incarceration on steroids” and that the party needed a leader more in tune with its future.

The Biden campaign has responded by attacking Booker’s record as mayor of Newark, including the way Newark police stopped and frisked black men, and the city’s objection when the Justice Department took action against Newark’s police.

Harris, who served as district attorney of San Francisco and attorney general of California, has also faced questions about the role she played in sentencing guidelines. This included a state truancy law that, in certain cases, allowed parents whose children missed school to be arrested. She has since acknowledged “unintended consequences” related to the law.

Harris’s record as a prosecutor also has come under scrutiny from criminal justice reform advocates.  As California attorney general, her office fought to release fewer prisoners amid overcrowding in the state’s system, with lawyers from her office arguing in 2014 that the releases could deprive the state of a source of labor.

Criminal justice reform could be an issue in the general election.

President Trump, whose administration spearheaded a criminal justice reform bill through Congress last year, has already hit Biden over his support for the crime bill from the 1990s.

The First Step Act, combined with continual good economic news, could help Trump with minority votes, said Ford O’Connell, a GOP strategist and adjunct professor at The George Washington University.

It “definitely gives Trump some added ammo he didn’t have in 2016,” he said.

Read more from Zack Burdyck at The Hill

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