Sen. Ted Cruz has falsely tried to label “every single” Senate Democrat as “supporting abolishing the police,” based on a misleading interpretation of the words of two of President Joe Biden’s nominees.
Both nominees said in confirmation hearings that they do not support defunding the police, though both have made comments in the past supportive of redirecting some police funding for social programs — such as for mental health and drug intervention — with the intent to reduce the need for police intervention. Neither candidate has advocated for “abolishing the police,” as Cruz put it repeatedly.
Biden’s nominee to be associate attorney general, Vanita Gupta, was confirmed by the Senate by a 51-49 vote on April 21. Sen. Lisa Murkowski was the only Republican to vote for her. The Senate Judiciary Committee deadlocked along partisan lines in a May 13 vote on Kristen Clarke, who was tapped by Biden to lead the civil rights division at the U.S. Department of Justice. Under Senate rules, a simple majority of the Democratic-controlled Senate can bring her nomination to the Senate floor for a vote.
Cruz raised the issue of police funding during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on gun violence on May 11. Pushing back against Biden’s call to “stop the proliferation” of homemade “ghost guns,” Cruz argued it was a non-issue, and said a bigger problem is that cities experiencing dramatic surges in homicide this year are “all epicenters of the Democrats radical push to defund the police.” (starting at the 33:12 mark).
Cruz then referenced the nominations of Gupta and Clarke, saying both have advocated “defunding the police.”
As we have written, there is no agreed upon definition for the term “defund the police.” Some critics of the police, who believe there is systemic racism in law enforcement, really do want to abolish police forces and replace them with other forms of community safety entities. Others advocate shifting some money and functions away from police departments to social service agencies. Still others want to increase funding to implement changes in policing.
Based on their vote in favor of Gupta and support for Clarke, Cruz attempted (in an exchange with Sen. Richard Blumenthal at around the 39:24 mark of the hearing video) to assign all Senate Democrats the most extreme interpretation of that phrase — abolishing police altogether, a position that no member of the Senate has taken. Nor has Gupta or Clarke.
Cruz, May 11: You just said a moment ago that no Democrat favors abolishing police. If that were the case, why did every single Democrat vote to confirm Vanita Gupta, a nominee for the No. 3 position at the Department of Justice, who said last year in writing, in written testimony before this Senate, advocated abolishing the police. And she was confirmed by one vote. Every single Democrat was the necessary vote to confirm a radical who advocated abolishing the police. And just this week, we’re taking up Kristen Clarke, another radical who has last year, in testimony before the Senate, advocated for abolishing police. If you don’t support abolishing the police, why do you keep voting for nominees who advocate abolishing the police?
Blumenthal: As you well know, Senator Cruz, that is a complete distortion of their positions.
Cruz doubled down on the accusation during a committee hearing to confirm Clarke on May 13. The Texas Republican claimed he had evidence that Gupta “explicitly, unequivocally, with no wiggle room” has supported abolishing the police — and that Senate Democrats who voted to confirm her, by extension, support abolishing the police.
“Senate Democrats are fond of saying that they don’t advocate abolishing the police. That’s understandable. That’s probably good politics,” Cruz said on May 13. “Their voters, most assuredly, don’t support abolishing the police. It is only the radicals. It is only the extreme left that advocates abolishing the police. But today’s proceedings and the proceedings of the last month have made clear that every single Democratic member of the United States Senate is now on record supporting abolishing the police. Why is that? Because every single Democrat voted to confirm Vanita Gupta.”
To back up that statement, Cruz produced Gupta’s written testimony last year to the Senate Judiciary Committee — falsely claiming that it proves she “advocates abolishing the police, explicitly, unequivocally, with no wiggle room.”
At a June 16, 2020 hearing on police use of force and community relations, Gupta testified as president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. And she provided a written statement to the committee.
But no fair reading of that statement would lead one to conclude she was advocating “abolishing the police.”
Gupta touted a 2019 report by the Leadership Council Education Fund “outlining proposals to help build trust between communities and police departments, restore confidence, and reimagine a new paradigm of public safety.”
“While front-end systems changes are important,” she wrote, “it is also critical for state and local leaders to heed calls from Black Lives Matter and Movement for Black Lives activists to decrease police budgets and the scope, role, and responsibility of police in our lives.”
Gupta, June 16, 2020: Ultimately, it is becoming clear that Congress must redirect government dollars away from policing practices rooted in the criminal-legal system and the carceral state, and toward policy goals that reflect a vision of public safety that promotes community health and safety. Many crises that currently involve a police response, and which too often lead to mistreatment and increased mistrust, would be better handled through more mental health providers, social workers, victim advocates, drug treatment professionals, educators, gun violence interrupters, and others who can serve community needs in a non-punitive capacity. Providing more federal resources to tackle issues such as homelessness, mental health, unemployment, disabilities, underfunded schools, disparities in health care and nutrition, and the lasting effects of redlining may be beyond the scope of today’s hearing, but they will have a far greater and more lasting impact in making communities safer.
That is not abolishing police. That is changing some aspects of policing and steering some — but not all — police resources to social programs designed to lessen the need for police intervention.
“This moment of reckoning requires leaders, together with communities, to envision a new paradigm for public safety that respects the human rights of all people,” Gupta wrote. “That means not just changing policing practices, but shrinking the footprint of the criminal legal system, including police, in Black and Brown people’s lives. And it means shifting our approach to public safety away from exclusive investments in criminalization and policing, toward investments in economic opportunity, education, health care, and other public benefits. This paradigm not only furthers equity, but also constitutes effective policy: When we stop using criminal ‘justice’ policy as social policy, we make communities safer and more prosperous.”
During her confirmation hearing on March 9, however, Gupta said she does not support defunding the police.
“I do not support defunding the police,” Gupta said. “I have, in fact, spent my career advocating where it’s been necessary for greater resources for law enforcement and things like body-worn cameras, officer wellness and safety programs, and any number of measures.”
A spokesman for the Biden-Harris transition told the Washington Post Fact Checker that Gupta spoke at the June 2020 committee hearing “on behalf of her organization to reflect the consensus position among civil rights groups — not in her personal capacity — and has never personally supported defunding the police in any sense.” The Post determined she had “reversed herself” on the defunding issue.
Regardless, we could find no instance of her calling for “abolishing the police.”
Clarke’s Newsweek Op-Ed
On June 11, 2020, Clarke penned an op-ed for Newsweek that ran under the headline, “I Prosecuted Police Killings. Defund the Police—But Be Strategic.”
Cruz claimed the op-ed “explicitly advocated abolishing the police,” but again it advocated for changes well short of abolishing policing.
Clarke said at her confirmation hearing that the headline that ran atop her op-ed was “a poor title chosen by the editor.” But she did several times in the op-ed call for investing less in police, and more in social services.
To counter that, Cruz read the second paragraph of the op-ed, “Into that space has surged a unifying call from the Black Lives Matter movement: ‘Defund the police.'”
“Now, my colleagues, you cannot argue that someone doesn’t want to defund the police when they describe the unifying call from Black Lives Matter, defund the police,” Cruz said. “But, you say, what does that mean? Well, the next paragraph Ms. Clarke elaborates. ‘Among activists and local governments, the meaning of ‘defund the police’ ranges from reining in municipal police budgets to complete police abolition. For example, a majority of the Minneapolis City Council pledged to ‘dismantle’ their police force.”
Clarke wrote that, but the article makes clear that she does not ascribe to that second, more extreme interpretation of “defund the police.”
Rather, as Cruz noted, Clarke wrote, “We must invest less in police and more in social workers. … We must invest less in police and more in social supports in our schools. … We must invest less in police and more in mental health aid.”
“These examples demonstrate that we can be smart and strategic about how and where we look to ‘defund the police,'” she wrote.
Asked by Cruz during her confirmation hearing on April 14 whether she “still believe[s] it is a good idea to defund the police,” Clarke responded, “I do not support defunding the police. The impetus for writing that op-ed was to make clear that I do not support defunding the police. And I spent considerable time talking about the need to channel resources to places such as mental health treatment, alleviate some of the burdens that we place on the doorstep of law enforcements and the issues we ask them to wrestle with that are outside of their core competency.”
Again, whatever one makes of her stated position to reallocate some police funding to social services — and we at FactCheck.org take no position on that — the fact is she never advocated for the much more extreme position of “abolishing the police.”
Cruz also asserted that as a student at Columbia University, Clarke “organized” a conference that featured speakers who referred to convicted cop-killers Assata Shakur and Mumia Abu-Jamal as political prisoners.
During her confirmation hearing, Clarke said she was “not familiar with their cases” and that she did not organize the conference. Rather, she said, it was “organized by the late Dr. Manning Marable, who was the director of the Institute for Research in African American Studies. I was not the organizer of that conference, but I provided logistical support as a student at that time.”
Cruz also pointed to an email Clarke sent while she was a student in 1999. In it, Clarke forwarded an essay from poet and political activist Amiri Baraka, but Cruz wrongly ascribed Baraka’s words to Clarke.
“To each of my Democratic colleagues on this committee, Ms. Clarke, in writing, said – I want to read the sentence that on this copy is highlighted – ‘The Klan is now the police, with blue uniforms replacing the sheets and hoods,’” Cruz said. “You do not get to pretend you are defenders of law enforcement when you vote to confirm someone who describes police officers as the Klan and who has advocated repeatedly in writing for abolishing the police. This is radical. This is extreme.”
It was not Clarke who wrote, “The Klan is now the police.” It was part of an essay written by Baraka entitled “Mumia, ‘Lynch Law’ & Imperialism.” Clarke forwarded the essay to Marable and suggested it as a piece for a magazine Marable edited, and suggested that it could be used for a panel he was putting together on the death penalty.
Cruz has a point – but he goes too far. Clarke and Gupta have expressed past support for spending less on policing and more on social programs. But they did not call for “abolishing the police” and neither did “every single Democratic member” of the Senate.
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