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Capitol Police Testimony Blunts Message07/28 06:25

   

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Republican Party's self-portrayal as champions of law 
and order is colliding with searing testimony from police officers themselves. 
Officers on Tuesday described in vivid, personal terms the terror of defending 
the U.S. Capitol from violent insurrectionists inspired by then-president 
Donald Trump on Jan. 6.

   Will it matter in next year's elections?

   Heading into the 2022 midterms, the GOP is seeking political advantage in 
Americans' concern about rising crime nationwide. But the police testimony at 
Tuesday's debut hearing of the congressional panel investigating the 
insurrection could undercut that effort.

   It highlighted the GOP's effort to brush past the violence unleashed by a 
mob of Trump's supporters that endangered hundreds of officers.

   "You're talking about people who claim that they are pro-law enforcement, 
pro-police, pro-law and order," said Capitol Police Sgt. Aquilino Gonell. "Yet 
when they have the chance and the opportunity to do something about it, to hold 
people accountable, you don't, you pass the bucket, like nothing happened."

   The hearing brought greater focus to how the debate over who's stronger or 
weaker on crime may unfold in elections. Republicans eager to pounce on 
Democrats may find themselves facing questions about whether the GOP did enough 
to stand up for law enforcement when put to the test.

   Longtime GOP strategist Scott Jennings, who said it was hard to watch the 
officers' testimony and not feel "outraged" and "disgusted," said he expects 
crime to be "a massive issue" in the upcoming midterm contests. And while he 
expects Democrats to remain on the defensive, he said Republicans' response to 
Jan. 6 had given Democrats an opening "to distract from some of their real 
shortcomings."

   "Republicans are certain to attack Democrats over what we would say are 
efforts to undermine the police. And Democrats are certain then to parry those 
attacks with, 'Well you weren't so pro-police when it comes to Jan 6,"' he 
said. "When you're thinking about campaign messaging, it just sort of makes it 
less clean."

   Republicans are struggling to form an effective response to the testimony. 
The two GOP members of the panel, Reps. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois and Liz 
Cheney of Wyoming, are participating over the objection of their party's 
leaders. House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy backed away from the panel after 
Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejected two of his appointees, a decision that makes it 
harder for him to influence the narrative of the hearing.

   Leading Republicans are ultimately working to avoid angering Trump, who 
remains popular among many GOP voters and is becoming increasingly assertive in 
the party's primaries.

   What did he have to say about the hearing?

   In a statement, he said nothing about the Capitol conduct of his supporters 
and offered no sympathy for the testifying officers. Instead, he repeated his 
broader accusations that the press is ignoring crime that "is eating away at 
our cities and our country."

   "America needs law and order, not defunding the police," Trump said. "We 
need our police back. America should and can be safe!"

   Republicans' tough-on-crime strategy, which dates back decades to the Nixon 
era, was a winning one in many 2020 congressional races after Trump and other 
candidates seized on calls from some Democratic activists to "defund the 
police" and invest in alternative measures as part of sweeping changes to 
address systemic racism. Candidate, now-President Joe Biden notably rejected 
those efforts and instead called for reforms paired with additional resources 
for law enforcement.

   Polls have found Americans give Biden lower marks when it comes to handling 
crime than other issues, though a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC 
Center for Public Affairs Research found voters split on which party they trust 
to do a better job of handling crime. Some 32% said Republicans, 30% Democrats. 
Roughly a third said they trust neither or both equally.

   The poll also found stark differences between the parties' appetites for 
investigating the events surrounding Jan. 6. Fully 81% of Democrats said it's 
"extremely" or "very" important that investigations into the Capitol attack 
continue, versus just 38% of Republicans. Only 9% of Democrats say it's not 
important, 38% of Republicans.

   While most voters have made up their minds about what happened, Alex Conant, 
a Republican strategist, said he expects Tuesday's testimony to nonetheless 
figure prominently in Democrats' campaign ads next year.

   "It's clear that the Democrats want to run on the pandemic, the economy and 
Jan. 6. Republicans want to run on immigration, inflation and crime," he said. 
"Midterm voters will hear Republicans say that Democrats want to defund the 
police, and Democrats will point to Jan. 6. And I think in some of these bigger 
races, where swing voters matter, that will be an important debate."

   It's a tactic Democrats have already been using, including at the White 
House, where Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Monday accused Republicans of 
hypocrisy.

   "Many of the Republicans in Congress who are the most vocal about supposedly 
supporting the police and law and order are the same ones who have dismissed 
and downplayed the shameful events of that day," she said.

 
 
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