House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) faced biting criticism Sunday over a video he posted that rearranged an interview between health care activist Ady Barkan and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden to make it sound like Biden had agreed to "defund" the police. Barkan, who has ALS and speaks through a computer voice simulator, tweeted that he has "lost my ability to speak, but not my agency or my thoughts," accused Scalise of having "doctored my words for your own political gain," and asked him to "remove this video immediately" and apologize to "the entire disability community."
Biden's answer about directing money to social services to ease the burden on police "has been featured in advertising worth millions of dollars that accuses Biden of wanting to 'defund' police," David Weigel reports at The Washington Post. But "when he's been asked directly about the 'defund the police' concept, Biden has frustrated critics on the right and left by rejecting it." Biden spokesman Andrew Bates said the decision to "doctor" Barkan's words was "both morally abhorrent and a sign of utter panic."
Scalise initially defended the video as a fair representation of Biden's answer, suggesting that "'redirecting' police funding" is the same as "defunding" the police. Scalise spokeswoman Lauren Fine told the Post the video had been "condensed" to "the essence of what he was asking." Twitter flagged the video as "manipulated," and Scalise tweeted late Sunday that he will "honor" Barkan's request "and remove the portion of his interview from our video."
"The rest of the video, which accused Democrats of stoking unrest, contained other clips that had been ripped from context," too, Weigel reports. Some Democrats argue that the unpopular idea of "defunding" the police saps support from more broadly popular proposals to redirect some police funding toward preventative programs. Scalise appears to be betting neither idea is popular.