‘Republicans are defunding the police’: Fox News anchor stumps congressman

<span>Photograph: Olivier Douliery/AP</span>
Photograph: Olivier Douliery/AP
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The Fox News anchor Chris Wallace made headlines of his own on Sunday, by pointing out to a senior Republican that he and the rest of his party recently voted against $350bn in funding for law enforcement.

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“Can’t you make the argument that it’s you and the Republicans who are defunding the police?” Wallace asked Jim Banks, the head of the House Republican study committee.

The congressman was the author of a Fox News column in which he said Democrats were responsible for spikes in violent crime.

“There is overwhelming evidence,” Banks wrote, “connecting the rise in murders to the violent riots last summer” – a reference to protests over the murder of George Floyd which sometimes produced looting and violence – “and the defund the police movement. Both of which were supported, financially and rhetorically, by the Democratic party and the Biden administration.”

Joe Biden does not support any attempt to “defund the police”, a slogan adopted by some on the left but which remains controversial and which the president has said Republicans have used to “beat the living hell” out of Democrats.

On Fox News Sunday, Banks repeatedly attacked the so-called “Squad” of young progressive women in the House and said Democrats “stigmatised” law enforcement and helped criminals.

“Let me push back on that a little bit,” Wallace said. “Because [this week] the president said that the central part in his anti-crime package is the $350bn in the American Rescue Plan, the Covid relief plan that was passed.”

Covid relief passed through Congress in March, under rules that meant it did not require Republican votes. It did not get a single one.

Asked if that meant it was “you and the Republicans who are defunding the police”, Banks dodged the question.

Wallace said: “No, no, sir, respectfully – wait, sir, respectfully … I’m asking you, there’s $350bn in this package the president says can be used for policing …

“Congressman Banks, let me finish, and I promise I will give you a chance to answer. The president is saying cities and states can use this money to hire more police officers, invest in new technologies and develop summer job training and recreation programs for young people. Respectfully, I’ve heard your point about the last year, but you and every other Republican voted against this $350bn.”

Turning a blind eye to Wallace’s question, Banks said: “If we turn a blind eye to law and order, and a blind eye to riots that occurred in cities last summer, and we take police officers off the street, we’re inevitably going to see crime rise.”

Related: 'It's a 50-50 nation': Chris Wallace on Fox News, Trump and America's great divide

Wallace asked if Banks could support any gun control legislation. Banks said that if Biden was “serious about reducing violent crime in America”, he should “admonish the radical voices in the Democrat [sic] party that have stigmatised police officers and law enforcement”.

Despite working for Republicans’ favoured broadcaster, Wallace is happy to hold their feet to the fire, as grillings of Donald Trump and Kevin McCarthy have shown.

He has also attracted criticism, for example for failing to control Trump during a chaotic presidential debate last year which one network rival called “a hot mess, inside a dumpster fire, inside a train wreck”.

Last year, Wallace told the Guardian: “I do what I do and I’m sitting there during the week trying to come up with the best guests and the best show I possibly can and I’m not sitting there thinking about how do we fit in some media commentary.

“We’re not there to try to one-up the president or any politician.”