Trump rips into Biden for the 1994 crime bill

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Vice President of the United States Joe Biden adresses the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. U.S. Embassy Bern/ Eric Bridiers
Wikimedia Commons/U.S. Embassy, Bern, Switzerland

During his state visit to Japan last Monday, Donald Trump found time to rip into Joe Biden like an angry samurai, and for the right reason: Biden’s authorship of the infamous 1994 crime bill.

“Anyone associated with the 1994 Crime Bill will not have a chance of being elected,” Trump tweeted. “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, and helped fix the bad 1994 bill!”

In a second tweet, Trump added, “…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!”

Among other things, the bill, formally known as the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, imposed long, mandatory minimum sentences for a host of federal drug crimes and provided $9.7 billion in federal grants for prison construction for states that adopted similar sentences.

Earlier Biden-sponsored drug war bills made the penalties for the sale of crack cocaine much more draconian than those for the sale of cocaine in the powder form, despite the fact that there was no difference in effects between the two. At the time, crack cocaine was cheaper and therefore favored in poor, black communities.

Within a decade of the passage of the 1994 bill, the U.S. prison population soared from 1,179,200 inmates to 2,015,300. A huge number of them were black. Today, several million black Americans have serious criminal records thanks to Uncle Joe.

In 1994, Biden was a U.S. Senator for Delaware and chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He was the crime bill’s principal author, sponsor and advocate on the Senate floor.

Trump’s decision to go after Biden over the 1994 crime bill is an adroit political move.

For openers, the war on drugs has become overwhelmingly unpopular among the Democrats’ base voters. And Biden is already under increasing fire from his fellow Democratic presidential candidates for the 1994 crime bill and for his lifelong support of the war on drugs generally.

At least half a dozen Democratic candidates have called him out over his past crime and drug stands. More are likely to follow, because it’s the most promising issue the Democratic pack has for taking Biden down.

Which means Dem candidates whose instinct is to attack anything Trump says or does because Trump says or does it can’t attack Trump on this one without risking their own credibility on the issue.

So from here on out, trashing Biden’s drug war record is going to be a bipartisan sport, which makes it a particularly powerful line of attack.

Trump obviously sees the issue as a way of peeling off some black votes, but he may have more in mind as well.

Trump is smart enough to see that the Democrats are already making marijuana legalization a major issue in 2020, and that he won’t be able to ignore it. Neither will a lot of other Republican candidates.

Attacking Biden over the crime bill could be the opening move in a strategy by Trump to walk away from the drug war — and maybe even come up with his own reforms — before the issue pulls him down.

 But still, by attacking Biden on the crime bill, won’t Trump risk losing support from the socially conservative Democrats (aka the Deplorables) whose votes in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin put Trump in office?

Don’t bet on it. That’s because the 1994 crime bill also contained a provision imposing a 10-year ban on assault rifles.

Biden still brags about getting it included in the bill.

“I’m the only guy ever nationally to beat the NRA,” he crowed at a recent rally in New Hampshire.

Uh, not exactly. The assault rifle ban turned into a major issue in the 1994 elections — and, according to both former President Bill Clinton and the NRA, it was the decisive issue in flipping 25 or more House districts from Democrat to Republican, which gave the Republicans control of the House of Representatives.

It’s a safe bet that Trump will soon be going after Biden for the assault rifle ban in the crime bill too. The NRA sure isn’t going to let Joe forget it.