- Sanders is the longest-serving independent and one of the most progressive members of Congress.
- Graham blamed him during a debate on Monday for leading an effort on the left to “defund” police.
- “Just one thing, as a matter of fact, I never called for the defunding of the police,” said Sanders.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, one of the most progressive members of Congress, said during a live debate with Republican Lindsey Graham on Fox Nation that he has never called for “defunding the police.”
Sanders on Monday distanced himself from the phrase, which became a slogan for progressive activists and lawmakers following the 2020 police murder of George Floyd after Graham blamed him for leading the effort.
“Just one thing, as a matter of fact, I never called for the defunding of the police,” said Sanders, a Vermont independent who caucuses with Democrats. As a former mayor of Burlington “who worked very well with our police department,” Sanders said he believes “we need community-based policing that reflects the people in those communities, that we have to fight racism in every way that we can. But I’ve never called for defunding the police.”
The moment came during a live debate that is the first in a series, launched on Monday by the Bipartisan Policy Center, the Orrin G. Hatch Foundation, and the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate, to help leading senators find common ground on policy issues. It will also air on Fox News on Saturday, June 18 at 7 p.m.
“Defund the police” became a rallying cry on the left during the 2020 summer of protests after the murders of Floyd and other Black people by police. It was intended to mean a divestment of police funds or shifting of resources to community programs as a way to reduce incidents of deaths at the hands of police.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a New York progressive, is a proponent of the effort and has said that America would look “like a suburb” with defunded police.
Sanders and Graham are former presidential candidates who sit on the Senate Budget Committee, Sanders as chairman and Graham as the top Republican.
During the debate, Graham said the effort “has taken a toll” and blamed Sanders and others for leading it. “The bottom line is it’s a tough time to be a cop now. Who wants to go into law enforcement?” Graham said. “It’s time to let the cops know you’re not the problem, the criminal is the problem.”
When Sanders corrected him, Graham asked Sanders to publicly tell those who are calling for defunding the police to stop “because you’re hurting the country.”
“It’s people in your party, the liberal wing — I don’t know what you call these folks — but they believe the cops are the problem,” he said. “You say you’ve never done it but people in your party are doing it all the time.”