President Biden is expected on Wednesday to announce a slate of actions to bolster efforts by law enforcement agencies and community organizations to tackle gun violence, propelling the White House into the politically contentious debate over how to address rising crime in many U.S. cities.
The president’s remarks come as city leaders grapple with dueling calls to both improve oversight of their police departments and address soaring homicide rates that administration officials fear will continue through the summer.
Mr. Biden’s comments from the White House, scheduled for 3:30 p.m., will come after a discussion with local mayors, prosecutors and activists. The president’s remarks, administration officials say, are needed not just to show action by the federal government on the issue, but also because concerns over rising crime could hinder efforts to galvanize support for meaningful police reform measures.
The Biden administration announced on Tuesday that the Justice Department would start five “strike forces” to combat gun trafficking in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington and the San Francisco area.
On Wednesday, the administration announced that state and local governments could use coronavirus relief funds to hire police officers, pay overtime for community policing work, support community-based anti-violence groups and invest in technology to “effectively respond to the rise in gun violence resulting from the pandemic,” according to a statement from the Treasury Department. The funds can also be spent on summer camp programs in communities struggling with violence, programs for the formerly incarcerated and mental health services.
Biden administration officials said the president’s remarks would build on previous executive actions, including orders meant to curb the spread of “ghost guns” easily assembled from kits, expanding federal grants for police departments and directing $5 billion in his infrastructure proposal to groups that intervene with those most likely to commit violence.
Mr. Biden does not feel that reforming the police and tackling crime are conflicting goals, the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said on Tuesday. “We believe that a central driver of violence is gun violence,” she said, adding that the president “also believes that we need to ensure that state and local governments keep cops on the beat.”
Criminologists have reported that homicide rates in large cities were up more than 30 percent on average last year, and up another 24 percent for the beginning of this year, though overall crime figures have been down during the pandemic.
Some criminal justice advocates are concerned about the possibility that raising alarm over crime in cities could undermine momentum to overhaul law enforcement.
“We must not overreact and we must not repeat the mistakes of the past where crime has been politicized and the solutions have been focused on trying to arrest our way out of the problem,” said Udi Ofer, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Justice Division. “If there is a lot of jargon in that speech that feeds the tough-on-crime narrative, than yes we have a problem.”
Quentin James, the president of Collective PAC, an organization dedicated to electing African American officials, said Mr. Biden’s comments would be welcomed if he focused on the “root causes of crime and not just the symptoms of much larger social ills.”
“It’s not like you’re going to be pro-police or pro-cops or you’re going to be pro-reform — it’s not that cut-and-dried,” he said, adding that the important thing was hearing “nuance and balance” on the issue. “Black people are nervous about the crime spike and how to deal with that, but to deal with that in a way where we’re not just doubling police budgets.”
A bipartisan compromise on a national policing overhaul has stalled in Congress, despite Mr. Biden urging lawmakers to reach a deal by May 25, the anniversary of the murder of George Floyd by a white police officer in Minneapolis. Democrats continue to debate reducing funding for police departments, while Republicans have seized on the “defund the police” slogan to attack them as weak on public safety.
“If they think they’re just going to pass a few gun laws and everything is going to be fine, they’re absolutely not in touch with the reality of what’s going on across our country,” Representative John Katko, Republican of New York and the ranking member of the House Homeland Security committee, told Fox News on Tuesday.
For some, Mr. Biden’s comments on Wednesday will be a reminder of his political baggage. As a senator, Mr. Biden championed a 1994 crime bill that many experts say fueled mass incarceration, prompting questions during his presidential campaign over his commitment to overhauling the criminal justice system.
Mr. Biden has resisted calls by some members of the Democratic Party to divest in police forces, calling instead for using Justice Department grants to encourage police departments to change and eliminating sentencing disparities. The administration took a step toward the latter goal on Tuesday when the Justice Department backed a Senate proposal to equalize punishments for crack and powder cocaine offenses — which would end disparities that Mr. Biden helped create as a senator.
President Biden’s ambitions for a large-scale investment in the nation’s aging public works system along with other parts of his economic agenda hinge on what has always been the most difficult problem for lawmakers: agreeing on how to pay for the spending.
That question has sent a group of centrist senators scrounging to find ways to cover nearly $600 billion in new spending that they want to include as part of a potential compromise plan to invest in roads, broadband internet, electric utilities and other infrastructure projects.
The White House and Republicans have ruled out entire categories of potential ways to raise revenues. The impasse has become the subject of increasingly urgent talks between a large group of Senate Democrats, Republicans, White House officials and, at times, the president himself. Centrist Democrats in the Senate — along with Mr. Biden — have said repeatedly that they want to strike a deal with Republicans.
Among the ideas that senators have discussed in recent days are repurposing unspent coronavirus relief funds, increasing enforcement by the I.R.S. and establishing user fees for drivers, including indexing the gas tax to inflation.
Mr. Biden dispatched aides to Capitol Hill on Tuesday for discussions that his press secretary, Jen Psaki, said yielded progress. Top White House officials are set to meet on Wednesday evening with Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California. Those discussions will center on infrastructure negotiations as well as a separate effort to move a large chunk of the president’s $4 trillion economic agenda through the Senate without any Republican votes using a procedural mechanism known as reconciliation.
Among those expected to attend the meeting are Brian Deese, the director of the National Economic Council; Steve Ricchetti, a top adviser to Mr. Biden; Louisa Terrell, the director of the White House Office of Legislative Affairs; Shalanda Young, the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, and Susan E. Rice, who leads the White House Domestic Policy Council, according to an official familiar with the plans.
Tom Perez, the former Democratic National Committee chairman, on Wednesday began a campaign for governor of Maryland on a platform largely tied to his experience working in President Barack Obama’s administration.
“I’m the son of immigrants from the Dominican Republic, I could have never dreamed the president of the United States would give me the chance to make a difference,” Mr. Perez said in a video announcing his candidacy. “But there’s a lot left to do, and that’s why I’m running for governor.”
Mr. Perez, 59, served in the Justice Department and as labor secretary before Mr. Obama backed him to run the D.N.C. in 2017. He has teased a run for governor since his term as party chairman ended in January. The video is heavy on footage of the former president praising Mr. Perez, calling him “one of the best secretaries of labor in our history.”
He joins a crowded field of candidates to replace Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican who is barred by term limits from seeking a third term in office, that includes eight Democrats and two Republicans.
Though Mr. Perez has deep connections to national Democratic officials and donors, others in the race have far more recent experience in Maryland politics, including Peter Franchot, the state comptroller, and Rushern Baker, the former Prince George’s County executive, who placed second in Maryland’s 2018 Democratic primary for governor. Mr. Perez was elected to the Montgomery County Council in 2002 and served as Maryland’s labor secretary from 2007 to 2009.
Mr. Perez, in the video announcing his campaign, stood before his home in suburban Washington and promoted his connections to the state. Yet at the end of the video he is shown wearing a Washington Nationals jersey — a rival of Maryland’s baseball team, the Baltimore Orioles.
Four Saudis who participated in the 2018 killing of the Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi received paramilitary training in the United States the previous year under a contract approved by the State Department, according to documents and people familiar with the arrangement.
The instruction occurred as the secret unit responsible for Mr. Khashoggi’s killing was beginning an extensive campaign of kidnapping, detention and torture of Saudi citizens ordered by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, to crush dissent inside the kingdom.
The training was provided by the Arkansas-based security company Tier 1 Group, which is owned by the private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management. The company says the training — including “safe marksmanship” and “countering an attack” — was defensive in nature and devised to better protect Saudi leaders. One person familiar with the training said it also included work in surveillance and close-quarters battle.
There is no evidence that the American officials who approved the training or Tier 1 Group executives knew that the Saudis were involved in the crackdown inside Saudi Arabia. But the fact that the government approved high-level military training for operatives who went on to carry out the grisly killing of a journalist shows how intensely intertwined the United States has become with an autocratic nation even as its agents carried out horrific human rights abuses.
The State Department initially granted a license for the paramilitary training of the Saudi Royal Guard to Tier 1 Group starting in 2014, during the Obama administration. The training continued during at least the first year of former President Donald J. Trump’s term.
A State Department spokesman declined to confirm whether it awarded licenses to Tier 1 Group for the Saudi training.
“This administration insists on responsible use of U.S. origin defense equipment and training by our allies and partners, and considers appropriate responses if violations occur,” said the spokesman, Ned Price. “Saudi Arabia faces significant threats to its territory, and we are committed to working together to help Riyadh strengthen its defenses.”
For many Democrats and voting rights groups, the failure to advance the party’s major elections bill on Tuesday felt like the arrival of the inevitable, the final thud of a tree crashing in the woods after wavering for months. And everyone heard it.
Unable to halt the relentless push by Republican state legislatures to pass a host of voting restrictions, many Democrats had rested their hopes on a long-shot bid to enact a federal voting law that would undo much of the G.O.P. legislation and expand access to voting for millions around the country.
But on Tuesday, as it became increasingly clear that passing federal voting legislation would be a steep challenge, Democrats, civil rights groups and voting rights organizations reaffirmed their resolve to fight in Congress for voting protections.
“The pathway is Congress must do their job,” said Derrick Johnson, the president of the N.A.A.C.P. “When the Voting Rights Act was adopted in 1965, people thought it was a long shot. It’s our jobs as civil rights organizations to make possible what other people think is impossible. We continue to push forward.”
Though the bill, known as the For the People Act, struggled to garner universal support among Democratic senators, it had been perhaps the ultimate overarching objective for Democrats who have been beaten badly in state legislatures for much of the past two decades, allowing Republicans to draw gerrymandered state legislative districts to hold onto power and move nearly unimpeded in their recent quest to pass new voting laws.
Some voting rights groups expressed frustration with initial Democratic efforts, arguing that even though the issue was nominally the party’s top legislative goal — as evidenced by its H.R. 1 and S. 1 marking in Congress — it has not been treated with the requisite urgency. Yet they also hoped that the failed vote on Tuesday would vividly demonstrate the gravity of the situation.
“I have yet to see Democrats act like this is the No. 1 priority on their agenda, and I suspect that we will start to see that after today,” said Nsé Ufot, the chief executive of the New Georgia Project Action Fund, a voting rights group. “Today is the starter pistol. Today marks the beginning of the escalation.”
The blockade of the Democratic legislation in Congress came on the same day that Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas called a special session of the state’s Legislature to begin July 8, as Republicans there resumed their attempt to pass an expansive bill of voting restrictions.