By Betsy Klein, CNN
The White House is strongly condemning calls from some members of the Republican Party, including some elected lawmakers, to “defund the FBI” in the wake of last week’s search of former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate.
The pushback marks the White House’s most aggressive response to the FBI’s search to date and comes as other Republicans, including former Vice President Mike Pence, are sounding alarms on this message amid heightened threats to law enforcement.
“Just like President Biden rejects defunding the police, he rejects defunding other law enforcement, including the FBI,” White House deputy press secretary Andrew Bates said in a statement exclusively to CNN Wednesday.
“The President has called for boosting police funding through the COPS program and hiring 100,000 additional officers. He also included over $10.8 billion for the FBI in his most recent budget. The men and women who bravely serve in law enforcement to keep all of us safe deserve the resources and support that they need to do their jobs – not seeing their budgets slashed,” he said.
White House chief of staff Ron Klain blasted the calls to defund the FBI as “a reckless and irresponsible idea,” in an interview on CNN’s “Don Lemon Tonight” on Wednesday.
The statements come as GOP calls to defund the FBI ramped up in the past week, signaling Trump’s grip on his party. Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Lauren Boebert of Colorado, and Paul Gosar of Arizona have each posted the sentiment on their social media accounts, and Greene is selling $30 hats and T-shirts with the slogan.
It’s similar to a tactic taken by some progressive Democrats who campaigned on defunding the police in response to police brutality as the Black Lives Matter movement gained national momentum. Biden has consistently distanced himself from that stance, reiterating his support for law enforcement on the campaign trail and since taking office.
“We Republicans had pushed back very successfully, and had a very strong message against Democrats on a lot of issues. But Democrats pushing a defund the police message was something that was really, palpably strong for Republicans. And now because of a few Republicans — not all, but enough of them — who have said defund, destroy, and other things like that, they have allowed Democrats to really get up off the mat on this and have some momentum,” former Republican National Committee communications director Doug Heye, a CNN contributor, said.
Other Republicans have similarly cautioned against the message, foreseeing dissonance with voters ahead of the midterm elections from a party that has strongly aligned itself as pro-law enforcement.
“I just want to remind my fellow Republicans, we can hold the AG accountable for the decision he made without attacking rank-and-file law enforcement personnel at the FBI,” former Vice President Mike Pence said at an event in New Hampshire Wednesday.
“The Republican Party is the party of law and order. Our party stands with the men and women who serve on the thin blue line at the federal and state and local level and these attacks on the FBI must stop. Calls to defund the FBI are just as wrong as calls to defund the police,” Pence added.
Pence’s comments echo Rep. Dan Crenshaw, a Texas Republican, who told Axios last week: “I’m impressed Democrats finally got us to say, ‘Defund the FBI.’ That makes you look unserious, when you start talking like that.”
And Rep. Mike Turner, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, called statements in support of defunding law enforcement “outrageous.”
The FBI is investigating an “unprecedented” number of threats against bureau personnel and property following the Mar-a-Lago search, including some against agents listed in court records as being involved in the recent search, a law enforcement source told CNN last week.
The bureau, along with the Department of Homeland Security, also has issued a joint intelligence bulletin warning of “violent threats” against federal law enforcement, courts and government personnel and facilities.
On Tuesday, an organization representing thousands of retired FBI special agents slammed attacks on the bureau and called for government leadership to condemn those efforts.
“Unfounded and reckless attacks on the men and women of the FBI as they pursue [their] mission is both dangerous and unacceptable,” the Society of Former Special Agents of the FBI said in a statement. “Recent threats to FBI personnel and facilities only serve to increase the potential for violence and must be denounced by this nation’s leaders.”
Klain told CNN that “everyone should be concerned about the possibility of violence, about the threats against law enforcement.”
“The President’s made it very clear that threats of political violence have no place in our country. They had no place in our country on January 6, they have no place in our country, every day since then, they have no place in our country if they’re directed against law enforcement at any time. So [Biden’s] position on political violence is very clear, and we are certainly not for defunding the FBI,” he said.
After an attempted attack on an FBI field office last week in Cincinnati, Ohio, Vice President Kamala Harris condemned attacks on law enforcement and similar political rhetoric.
“It’s just highly irresponsible of anyone who calls themselves a leader and certainly anyone who represents the United States of America to engage in rhetoric for the sake of some political objective that can result in harm to law enforcement officers and agents,” she told reporters aboard Air Force Two.
This story has been updated with additional reaction.
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CNN’s Josh Campbell, Jessica Schneider, Donie O’Sullivan, Paul P. Murphy, Priscilla Alvarez, and Alex Rogers contributed to this report.