Capital punishment could emerge as a major campaign issue in the U.S. presidential race for the first time in 30 years, with top GOP rivals Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis already one-upping each other by touting tougher, more far-reaching death penalty laws.
Meanwhile, death penalty foes are poised to draw attention to what Democrat Joe Biden hasn’t done as president: He has taken no action on or even spoken about his 2020 campaign pledge to strike capital punishment from U.S. statutes.
A demonstration that the death penalty issue is far from academic came Wednesday when federal jurors in Pittsburgh voted to impose a death sentence for Robert Bowers for killing 11 people in a synagogue. It’s the first federal death sentence handed down during Biden’s presidency.
Trump, who restarted federal executions after a 17-year hiatus and oversaw 13 in his final six months as president, wasted no time making capital punishment a focus in his current, third presidential run. In declaring his candidacy on Nov. 15, he called for the execution of drug dealers.
In a July campaign video, Trump added another category of criminals he said deserve death.
“I will urge Congress to ensure that anyone caught trafficking children across our border receives the death penalty, immediately,” he said.
While the Justice Department announced a moratorium on federal executions in 2021, it’s a temporary pause. Nothing precludes a pro-death penalty candidate elected next year from quickly resuming them.
Florida Gov. DeSantis has put capital punishment on his agenda, too.