WASHINGTON – A day after a white Minneapolis police officer was convicted of murdering George Floyd, a black man, lawmakers on both sides said they were cautiously optimistic the verdict could give the Congress to overcome the obstacles that have thwarted a distant. police rehabilitation.
In a speech to the White House on Tuesday night, President Biden formally called on lawmakers to resurrect the bill known as the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, Democrats’ expansive measure to combat the use of force excessive and racial discrimination, pledging to sign it. in law “as quickly as possible”. The bill, co-authored by Vice President Kamala Harris when she was a senator, has languished for nearly a year amid partisan differences.
“We will stay there until it is done,” assured the president of the family of Mr. Floyd after the verdict.
On Capitol Hill, leading lawmakers on both sides said on Wednesday that the conviction may have opened a rare window of opportunity to break the deadlock. In the clearest sign of progress, Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, the Republicans’ top emissary on the issue, said a bipartisan group of lawmakers were “on the verge” of a compromise in the coming weeks. , although the details were obscure.
“I am interested in making a difference. I don’t care to make a point, ”said Representative Karen Bass, Democrat from California and lead author of her party’s legislation, in an interview, pointing to flexibility over a potential deal. “I can make my point and stand on a high horse, but that gets me nowhere.”
But to do so, the two sides would have to resolve the same stubborn ideological and political differences that have blunted past efforts.
Democrats have pushed for aggressive federal intervention to curb abuse in law enforcement. But they stopped before trying to dismantle police services, as some of the more progressive lawmakers have advocated.
Republicans pushed back on these prescriptive measures, saying the federal government should not dictate how the police do their job, but only provide incentives and training. And they worked to portray Democrats as anti-law enforcement extremists, a powerful line of attack in last year’s election.
Ms Bass and Mr Scott, who have been in low-key talks for weeks to find a compromise, have yet to win support from party leaders on a list of divisive issues. The main sticking point remains Democrats’ demand to change the legal liability shield for individual police officers, known as qualified immunity, to make it easier to bring civil suits against them for wrongdoing. The two sides also disagree on a proposal to amend the federal code to make it easier to prosecute certain officers.
Hopes that lawmakers would respond to the nationwide outcry for reform first collapsed last summer after Senate Republicans refused to take George Floyd’s measure and Democrats blocked their attempt to push through more modest legislation led by Mr. Scott. His package reportedly encouraged state and local police departments to change their practices, including penalizing those that did not require the use of body cameras and limiting the use of stranglers. It would not have changed the doctrine of qualified immunity or imposed new federal restrictions on the use of lethal force.
In addition to reducing qualified immunity and making it easier to prosecute misconduct, the Democrats’ bill would directly demand more changes in departments, including restrictions on the use of lethal force, except last. recourse. The House passed it last month almost entirely on party principles.
Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, told reporters on Tuesday that Republicans were “still open to police reform,” but their ideas “shouldn’t just be summarily dismissed in the process.” He hammered on Democrats for using filibuster last year to block Mr. Scott’s bill.
But in the midst of the public fight, Ms Bass, Mr Scott and a handful of other interested lawmakers worked quietly to bridge the gap. They include members of the bipartisan House problem-solvers caucus – led by one of the group’s chairs, Rep. Josh Gottheimer, Democrat of New Jersey, and Rep. Pete Stauber, Republican of Minnesota and a police lieutenant in retirement.
Lawmakers involved in the talks would study a law passed last year by Colorado that limited the ability of police officers to use qualified immunity as a defense against liability in state courts. Police unions and their allies are fiercely opposed to such a change and used the issue to push an issue through the Democrats’ bill last summer.
Mr Scott signaled on Wednesday that he was working on a potential compromise that would make it easier for victims or their families to sue police departments, but not officers individually. Many jurisdictions already allow such lawsuits, and the details of his proposal were not immediately clear, but Scott said Democrats had been “quite receptive.”
“There is a way to put more burden or burden on the department or the employer than on the employee,” he told reporters. “I think that would be a very logical step forward.”
Mr Scott said he would still not consider any changes that would facilitate the criminal prosecution of officers, as Democrats have insisted.
In the White House, Mr. Biden deployed senior members of his team to find a compromise. Susan Rice, his domestic policy adviser; Cedric L. Richmond, its chief of public outreach; and Louisa Terrell, its director of legislative affairs, have spoken to lawmakers about the bill in recent days, according to a senior official.
Democrats, in particular, have new reasons for optimism. Unlike a year ago, they can now count on a president of their own party who has made the fight against systemic racism a priority of his administration. In Ms. Harris, they have an enthusiastic supporter of the bill who is now in a position to play a crucial role. They also now control the Senate, allowing them to set the agenda for which bills come to a vote and when.
Mr. Scott is in a more difficult situation. The only black Republican in the Senate, he has spoken eloquently about his own experiences with police profiling, and he jumped at the chance last year to draft his party’s response to the wave of unrest.
But Mr Scott now faces re-election in a conservative southern state where he could be targeted in a right-wing primary. Playing a leading role in pushing Democrat-backed legislation to curb police wrongdoing could pose serious political risks for him.
Republicans have continued the barrage of attacks portraying Democrats as anti-police, and they may be reluctant to make deals that would dilute their attempts to pressure the issue in the 2022 midterm election.
Beyond political considerations, a vast gulf remains between how the two sides view issues of race and policing. Democrats have argued that the recent deaths of blacks in clashes with police exposed a fundamentally racist justice system that needs to be tackled on a large scale. While some Republicans have admitted that racism plays a role, most have instead said the problem is the individual fault of dishonest police officers.
Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn slammed Mr. Biden on Tuesday night for suggesting that Mr. Floyd’s murder exposed “systemic racism” plaguing the country.
“It was a verdict against a policeman based on individual facts in one case,” Mr Cornyn written on twitter. “I accept the verdict. No need to slander the police in general and the vast majority of police officers who risk their lives to protect public safety. “
At the same time, any move to cut police action as part of a bipartisan deal could backfire in the House, where progressive lawmakers have previously signaled that the Democratic bill is insufficient to solve the problems by suspense. With Democrats operating on the thinnest of margins, defections could prove fatal for a possible compromise bill.
“It’s not about cameras, recycling and strangulation plugs,” New York Democrat Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said Tuesday evening. “It’s about changing the way we structure our society and the value of black life. So yes, there is a law here which is not bad, it is important, which should be adopted. But even a lot of it doesn’t touch the heart. “
Katie rogers contribution to reports.