Last night was the second and final presidential debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden. 

During a lengthy discussion of race and their records on addressing issues of black Americans, Biden traded sharp barbs with President Trump even cynically saying, “Abraham Lincoln here is one of the most racist presidents we’ve had in modern history.” 

President Trump pointed out the Biden had “done nothing other than the crime bill, which put tens of thousands of black men mostly in jail…”

Moderator Kristen Welker pressed Biden through to address his record on crime including the 1994 Crime Bill which resulted in the incarceration of many black and Hispanic women and men.

Biden only said, “It was a mistake. I’ve been trying to change it since then.” 

President challenged him further, “Why didn’t you do it in the eight years, a short time ago? … You put tens of thousands of mostly Black young men in prison …. Why didn’t you get it done? You had eight years with Obama. You know why, Joe? Because you’re all talk and no action.”

Biden replied, “Because we had a Republican Congress. That’s the answer.”

Is it true that the Obama Administration never advanced criminal justice reform in all eight years because Republicans held both or either house of Congress?

“Because we had a Republican Congress. That’s the answer.”
Former VP Joe Biden

False. Completely make believe.

Joe Biden falsely scapegoated Republicans for a lack of inaction on criminal justice reform, specifically correcting the problems inflicted on minority communities from the 1994 Crime Bill and other tough-on-crime laws. 

When he and Obama took office, Democrats controlled both houses of Congress for their first two years and they had a supermajority in the Senate for some of 2009 and 2010. Republicans did not regain control of the House of Representatives until 2010 and the Senate until 2014. Partisan opposition was not the reason they forwent criminal justice reform. A focus on other legislative issues was. Let’s remember what the Obama administration did pass in 2010: the Affordable Care Act, not the First Step Act. 

President Obama granted 1,385 commutations, the most of any president in history, but delivered almost the fewest pardons. While they took action on specific cases, they did not push forward the systemic reform that the bipartisan First Step Act delivered. It’s true that President Obama initiated the First Step Act, but it was President Trump and Republicans who got it passed.

Harsher penalties were instituted during the 1990s to fight rising drug crime. By raising the penalties for drug offenses, instituting federal minimum sentences, and removing discretion from judges in sentencing, more Americans, especially minorities, were incarcerated for longer periods of time. Although drug kingpins were the target, an unintended consequence was that low-level, non-violent, first-time offenders landed longer sentences than serious violent criminals like rapists, murders, and terrorists.

Just ask Alice Marie Johson, a grandmother who landed a life sentence for helping facilitate drug trades, a crime that otherwise would have landed her far less time. Watch our conversation with Alice on her new memoir, After Life: