By CHRIS MEGERIAN and WILL WEISSERT
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden abruptly canceled a trip to Pennsylvania, where he had planned to propose a steep funding increase for police on Thursday, after testing positive for COVID-19.
The Democratic president was set to ask Congress to spend roughly $37 billion for fighting and preventing crime — including $13 billion to help communities hire and train 100,000 police officers over five years. He’d been scheduled to outline the plan during a visit to Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, but White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre announced the president was experiencing “very mild symptoms” after testing positive.
Instead, the president spoke by phone with Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., and Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Pa., as well as Wilkes-Barre Mayor George Brown and Paige Cognetti, mayor of nearby Scranton, the White House said. Biden discussed his crime plan and expressed “his disappointment that he was unable to travel to Scranton and Wilkes-Barre this afternoon.”
Casey tweeted after his call with Biden that the president “sounded great and is in good spirits” and said he was “looking forward to welcoming him back” to Pennsylvania soon.
Biden, 79, is fully vaccinated, after getting two doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine shortly before taking office, a first booster shot in September and an additional dose in March.
The White House also canceled Biden’s scheduled Philadelphia trip for a Democratic National Committee fundraiser on Thursday night and plans for him to spend the weekend at his home in Delaware.
Biden contracting the coronavirus means he won’t, at least for now, travel to publicly request additional funding for police. He had planned to seek the money from Congress as part of his latest budget proposal, according to senior administration officials who previewed the plan.
Republicans are trying to gain leverage in November’s midterm elections by portraying Democrats as unwilling to confront crime rates that have risen in some parts of the country.
Some top moderate House Democrats facing tough reelection fights have called for additional funding to fight crime. But the White House-led effort could also spark a political fight with the progressive wing of Biden’s own party, which has pushed for major policing reforms but seen those and other of its top priorities on combating climate change and dramatically increasing social spending fail to clear Congress.
As part of Biden’s plans, $3 billion would be geared toward clearing court backlogs and resolving cases involving murders and guns. The president also wants to use $15 billion to create a grant program that would fund ideas for preventing violent crime or creating a public health response to nonviolence incidents, aimed at reducing the burden on law enforcement.
Another $5 billion would support programs intended to stop violence before it occurs.
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