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White House's tough-on-crime message: Use COVID funds

With crime surging around the country, the Biden administration is telling local officials how to use some of the $1.9 trillion in COVID relief funds to bolster their police departments.

Driving the news: That guidance is spelled out in a White House memo obtained by Axios ahead of President Biden's meeting today with law enforcement and elected officials from around the country — including Eric Adams, New York City's Democratic mayoral nominee and former police captain, who's openly critical of his own party.

  • Chicago superintendent of police David O'Neal Brown and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser also will be among the participants.

The big picture: Democrats are concerned that violence and lawlessness could affect Biden's presidency and their political fortunes in the midterm elections.

  • Homicides jumped 30% in some large cities last year and this summer is already off to a deadly start, with Chicago witnessing more than 100 shootings over the July 4th weekend.

The intrigue: Adams has railed against fellow Democrats for focusing on national gun control legislation instead of directly addressing crime in blighted neighborhoods, calling those priorities “misplaced.”

  • He told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union” on Sunday, "It's almost insulting what we have witnessed over the last few years." Adams points to a new path for Democrats to navigate the police issue, Axios has reported.

Details: The memo's subject line leaves little mystery about how the White House is seeking to position itself: “How Local and State Government Can — and Should — Use the President’s Gun Crime Reduction Strategy and Historic Rescue Plan Funding to Improve Public Safety.”

  • It makes clear that COVID funds may be used for law enforcement and commends several cities that are doing so.
  • It was written by Domestic Policy Council director Susan Rice; Gene Sperling, who's monitoring the $1.9 trillion in COVID relief spending; and Julie Rodriguez, the director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs.
  • Attorney General Merrick Garland will join Biden for the Monday meeting. The invitation to Adams was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.

Flashback: In June, when Biden first explained that states and localities could use some of the $350 billion in local COVID money for law enforcement, he also touted traditional Democratic efforts on gun control and announced a new plan to crack down on gun dealers.

The bottom line: Monday’s event is another attempt by the White House to show that it is aware of a national crime problem and that Biden is considering all his policy options to address it.

  • But inviting Adams to White House could expose an emerging Democratic divide.

Read the memo.

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