Georgia Senate race: Warnock says Loeffler voted to defund police, but proof comes up short

Democrat fights back after false Loeffler charge he supports defunding

Rev. Raphael Warnock, a Democratic candidate for Senate in Georgia, greets supporters during a campaign event near Coan Park in Atlanta on Nov. 3.  (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Rev. Raphael Warnock, a Democratic candidate for Senate in Georgia, greets supporters during a campaign event near Coan Park in Atlanta on Nov. 3. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted December 7, 2020 at 5:17pm, Updated at 8:14pm

Punching back at GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler’s attempts to tie him to progressive calls to “defund the police,” Democratic challenger Raphael Warnock is pointing to Loeffler’s September vote against an appropriations bill as evidence that she was the one who tried to take money away from police departments. 

“I want to point out that Kelly Loeffler actually voted to defund the police,” Warnock said during a debate Sunday night. “She voted against the COPS program. She was one of only 10 United States senators who did.”

But the proof he cites is a stretch at best. Loeffler was one of 10 senators to vote Sept. 29 against a catch-all spending bill that kept the government from shutting down. That bill included money for community policing grants known as the COPS program, but it also paid for thousands of other programs from agriculture to transportation to veterans affairs.

Warnock’s campaign did not cite any evidence that COPS funding was the reason for Loeffler’s “no” vote, though it did cite a statement she gave to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in September that she wanted to take a stand against the wasteful spending and the way the government is funded. 

Loeffler had proposed an amendment to the stopgap spending bill — which was not considered — that would have prohibited federal agencies from using appropriations to pay for racial sensitivity training programs, a pet issue of President Donald Trump’s that has nothing to do with police.

Loeffler's Senate and campaign offices did not return requests to comment.

Warnock’s attempt to turn the tables on police funding came in a runoff campaign that — along with the parallel runoff between Georgia's other senator, Republican David Perdue, and challenger Jon Ossoff — will decide on Jan. 5 which party controls the Senate. 

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Loeffler has also distorted Warnock’s position on police funding. She has spent months painting Warnock, the pastor at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, as a “radical liberal” who espouses “dangerous” ideas that are out of line with Georgia voters, and has frequently taken passages from his sermons and other public statements out of context to back up her allegations. 

The attacks represent an amped-up version of the strategy Republicans credit for wins in House and Senate races across the map in November, painting Democratic candidates as radical socialists regardless of their actual policy positions. 

Loeffler said five times on Sunday that Warnock and his supporters want to defund the police, even though he has repeatedly said he does not support the idea.

That is a position that has been upheld by fact checkers, who have pointed out that he supports demilitarizing police forces and “responsibly” funding law enforcement, as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in June. 

Warnock spokesman Terrence Clark said Loeffler's vote against the stopgap funding bill, which Perdue supported, is relevant because she "continues to lie about Reverend Warnock's position."

"The fact is she voted against funding for the COPS program," Clark said. "It's another example of Senator Loeffler misleading Georgians about Reverend Warnock to try to distract from her own record."

Warnock expanded on his position about police funding Sunday. 

“I don’t think we should defund the police but we certainly do need criminal justice reform,” he said. “We need to make sure that we have an independent review process when civilians die at the hands of police, we need to make sure that police officers and departments that have a pattern of misconduct are held accountable. We can do that and celebrate police at the same time.