Former Vice President Joe Biden has apologized for “tough-on-crime” past, trying to shape himself to be a strong candidate for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. Unfortunately for him, Biden has a long history of supporting the very crime bills that criminal justice reformers target today. Many argue those bills had a disproportionate impact on black Americans, and both Republicans and Democrats have voted for criminal justice reform.
Yet Biden has not always been apologetic. In fact, in 1993, he bragged about sponsoring every single major crime bill since 1976.
“So, I hope that this crime bill when it passes, the Biden/Hatch crime bill, as it becomes law, God willing, I hope that we will have ended once and for all this notion that as a hangover from the ’60s that somehow Democrats are weak on crime and Democratic presidents are weak on crime, and Republicans are tough on crime,” Biden said in video unearthed by NTK Network.
“The truth is every major crime bill since 1976 that’s come out of this Congress, every minor crime bill, has had the name of the Democratic senator from the state of Delaware, Joe Biden, on that bill, and has had a majority vote of the Democratic members of the United States Senate on the bill,” the then-senator added.
In remarks published by Axios in January, Biden apologized for his tough-on-crime voting record.
“I haven’t always been right. I know we haven’t always gotten things right, but I’ve always tried,” Biden said. “It was a big mistake when it was made. We thought, we were told by the experts, that crack you never go back, [and that the two were] somehow fundamentally different. It’s not different. But it’s trapped an entire generation.”
Biden has argued that the 1994 crime bill, which introduced the federal three-strikes law, did not contribute to mass incarceration. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), a former prosecutor who has rushed to champion drug legalization to move away from her own tough-on-crime record, disagreed.
“That 1994 crime bill, it did contribute to mass incarceration in our country. It encouraged and was the first time that we had a federal three-strikes law. It funded the building of more prisons in the states,” she said. “And so I disagree, sadly.”
Biden will have to explain voting for mandatory minimums, drug criminalization, and more. It seems the former vice president is rushing to distance himself from his own record — never a strong position for a presidential candidate.
Will Democratic voters, concerned about how criminal justice disproportionately harms black people, trust that 2019 Joe Biden is not the same as 1993 Joe Biden?
Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.