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Biden in leaked audio says 'defund the police' being used to 'beat the living hell out of' Democrats

President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenWarren calls for US to support ceasefire between Israel and Hamas UN secretary general 'deeply disturbed' by Israeli strike on high rise that housed media outlets Nation's largest nurses union condemns new CDC guidance on masks MORE privately warned a group of civil rights leaders to curb rhetoric about police reform in America ahead of the Georgia Senate runoff elections in January. 

The leaders had been urging Biden to be aggressive in rolling back some of the Trump administration's policies via executive order during his early days in office, including on matters of voting and police misconduct.

They also took issue with Biden's selection of Tom VilsackTom VilsackUSDA: Farm-to-school programs help schools serve healthier meals OVERNIGHT MONEY: House poised to pass debt-ceiling bill MORE as Agriculture secretary instead of choosing a person of color. That prompted Biden to warn the group that such forceful statements could backfire in the Georgia Senate election, which will determine party control of the chamber.

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“I also don’t think we should get too far ahead of ourselves on dealing with police reform in that, because they’ve already labeled us as being ‘defund the police’ anything we put forward in terms of the organizational structure to change policing — which I promise you, will occur. Promise you,” Biden said during a a two-hour virtual meeting with civil rights leaders on Tuesday, audio of which was obtained by The Intercept.

"Just think to yourself and give me advice whether we should do that before Jan. 5th, because that's how they beat the living hell out of us across the country, saying that we're talking about defunding the police. We're not. We're talking about holding them accountable," Biden continued.

Since the death of George Floyd this summer, some progressives have been calling for a fundamental reshaping of the criminal justice system in America, including the reallocating of resources typically given to local police departments for other social programs. 

Biden and the Democratic party's more moderate wing have pushed back or danced around the idea in the run up to the 2020 election.  

Earlier this month, former President Obama cautioned party leaders that calls to defund police departments could cost Democrats voters. 

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"You lost a big audience the minute you say it, which makes it a lot less likely that you're actually going to get the changes you want done," Obama said. "The key is deciding, do you want to actually get something done, or do you want to feel good among the people you already agree with?"

Biden told the civil rights leaders he does not intend to push the limits of his executive authority when asked to reverse some policies implemented during the Trump administration.

"There’s some things that I’m going to be able to do by executive order," Biden reportedly said. "I’m not going to hesitate to do it, but what I’m not going to do is I’m not going to do what used to — Vanita [Gupta], you probably used to get angry with me during the debates, when you’d have some of the people you were supporting saying, ‘On Day 1, I’m gonna have an executive order to do this!’ Not within the constitutional authority. I am not going to violate the Constitution," Biden said. 

In a statement to The Hill regarding the audio, a transition official said Biden "is the same person behind closed doors that he is public; honest, direct and realistic about the challenges facing our nation the day he is sworn in." 
 
"As he made clear throughout the campaign, he believes in supporting bold and urgent reform to our criminal justice system while continuing to support law enforcement's mission to keep our communities safe," the official said. 
 
Updated 4:17 p.m.