WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) – A difficult political atmosphere for President Joe Biden may have gotten even more treacherous with the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse.
Biden was already facing sliding numbers in the polls with an electorate exhausted by the coronavirus pandemic and rising inflation. Now the president finds himself caught between outraged Democrats – some of whom already believed Biden’s inability to secure police reform and voting rights legislation – and Republicans seeking to use the Rittenhouse case to exploit the national divide on issues of grievance and race.
“This is one of the last things Biden wants to get into right now as he tries to finish the big Build Back Better bill and get it across the finish line in the Senate,” he said. said Christopher Borick, principal of Muhlenberg College. Institute of public opinion. “Race and Kyle Rittenhouse is not the space he wants or needs to go deep right now.”
Rittenhouse’s acquittal sparked new conversations about racial justice, self-defense, and the police in America. The Illinois teenager armed himself with an AR-15 style semi-automatic rifle during an August 2020 protest in Kenosha, Wis., Days after a black man was shot by a white policeman. He said he came to a small town to help protect a parking lot from vandals and provide medical assistance.
Rittenhouse would end up killing two men and maiming a third. Rittenhouse and his lawyers have successfully argued that he acted in self-defense in a clash in which he feared for his life.
The verdict in the case comes at a time when Biden is trying to keep his fellow Democrats focused on passing his massive social services and climate bill and hopes to turn the tide with Americans downgrading his performance as as president.
The president responded cautiously after Friday’s verdict, expressing respect for the jury’s decision. He later added in a written statement that, like many Americans, he was “angry and concerned” about Rittenhouse’s acquittal by the jury.
Meanwhile, Republicans, who won this month’s election in Virginia in part by accusing Democrats of promoting critical race theory in public schools, are adopting 18-year-old Rittenhouse as their new hero in the American cultural wars.
GOP representatives Paul Gosar of Arizona and Matt Gaetz of Florida have said they would like to hire him as an intern, with Gosar suggesting they fight for the honor. Another Republican, Representative Lauren Boebert of Colorado, predicted on Saturday that Liberal outrage over the Rittenhouse trial would benefit her party.
“It seems the Liberals want self-defense to be illegal,” Boebert tweeted. “Try running on it in 2022 and see how far it takes you with the majority of the sane American public.”
Former President Donald Trump was quick to side with Rittenhouse after the verdict. He called the teenager “brave” for testifying in his own defense and accused the left of trying to “stir up hatred” with his treatment of Rittenhouse.
Trump has spent much of his post-presidency fueling divisions with his frontal criticism of Biden and any Republican who has not followed his views. And most Republicans, whether through silence or direct approval, have followed his lead.
In the aftermath of the acquittal, Republicans highlighted a tweet from Biden during his winning 2020 presidential campaign in which he appeared to suggest Rittenhouse was a white supremacist.
The tweet, from September 2020, lambasted Trump for not ‘disowning white supremacists on the debate stage’ the night before and included a video containing a still image of Rittenhouse from the night of the Kenosha shooting and footage white supremacists with torches. at the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel are among the party officials who have asked Biden to apologize.
“He smeared a teenager to score political points and spread lies about this matter,” McDaniel wrote on Twitter. “What Biden did was dangerous and inflammatory.”
Shortly after the verdict was asked by a reporter if he was sticking to his social media post, Biden responded that “I stand by what the jury found.”
Borick, the Muhlenberg College pollster, said this month’s election results in Virginia show that addressing cultural issues – including racial and transgender rights – could be a good strategy for Republicans trying to energize a segment of the electorate that was passionate about Trump but less excited about the rest of the GOP. But Borick warned that the GOP’s total embrace of Rittenhouse was not without risk.
“I don’t know if this is a great place if you try, halfway through, to reach out to suburban voters and educated voters who might not blame the decision to acquit Rittenhouse due to the circumstances but are far away. to be comfortable holding him like a hero, ”Borick said.
Even before the verdict, Biden had faced increased pressure from some Democrats over the lack of progress in passing voting rights legislation and police reform.
Last month, a day after Senate Republicans obstructed a major voting bill for the second time this year, Biden acknowledged that the process of government can be “frustrating and at times disheartening,” but urged its supporters to “keep the faith”.
At the same time, civil rights leaders expressed frustration that Biden did not further use the power of the bully pulpit to push for a sweeping police reform bill named after after George Floyd, the black man from Minneapolis whose murder last year by police sparked protests around the US
Speaking at an event earlier this week where he enacted three bills to increase police assistance, Biden made only a brief mention of the George Floyd Act, asking lawmakers to two parties to work together to make it a law.
“It’s next,” Biden said.