Bill de Blasio: 1994 crime bill was a 'huge mistake'

Mayor calls out Biden for voting for it

By Kate Sullivan, CNN
Elsa/Getty Images

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio on Sunday said the 1994 crime bill was a "huge mistake" and those responsible for the legislation, including former Vice President Joe Biden, must be accountable and "speak to it."

"That crime bill was one of the foundations of mass incarceration in a very painful era in our nation's history," de Blasio, a Democratic 2020 presidential candidate, told CNN's Dana Bash on "State of the Union."

"The (former) vice president and anyone else has to be accountable for every vote they take and what's on their record, and I think that was a huge mistake," he said.

De Blasio said there is a "mass incarceration crisis" in the US and said "federal policies, including that crime bill, were a big part of why untold thousands of people and families had their lives entirely disrupted and in many ways destroyed because folks who had done very little were sent to very long sentences."

"We've got to break out of that and anyone responsible has to be accountable and has to speak to it," he said.

Biden recently said the bill, which he helped write as senator from Delaware, "did not generate mass incarceration."

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris of California said she disagrees with Biden's assessment of the bill, which tightened federal sentencing guidelines and provided federal funds for new cops and prisons.

Pete Buttigieg, the South Bend, Indiana, mayor and Democratic presidential candidate, said the "bad" caused by the controversial bill "outweighs the good." He said the bill contributed to mass incarceration and its biggest impact could be the breaking up of families, especially those of color, and how that has affected children.

Debate over the crime bill's lasting implications has been playing out on the 2020 campaign trail and is expected to continue in the crowded race for the Democratic nomination.

Three 2020 Democratic candidates for president supported the crime bill: Biden, then-Rep. Bernie Sanders and then-Rep. Jay Inslee. But Biden, who was the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee at the time, played the largest role in the legislation.

CNN's Dan Merica contributed to this report.

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