Representative Karen Bass, a Democrat from California and chair of the Democratic Black Caucus, speaks during an event with members of the Democratic caucus on the East Front steps of the U.S. Capitol before a vote on the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020 in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, June 25, 2020.
Stefani Reynolds | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Congress is set to miss President Joe Biden’s Tuesday deadline to pass a police reform bill as negotiators decide how far the federal government should go to root out law enforcement misconduct and violence against Black Americans.
Tuesday will mark one year since 46-year-old Black man George Floyd died after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee onto Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes. While worldwide calls for justice and a reimagining of law enforcement sparked reforms or budget cuts in some cities and states in the last year, Congress has yet to exert its power to change American policing.
Bipartisan negotiators have worked for weeks to tweak the House-passed George Floyd Justice in Policing Act to win enough Republican support to get it through the Senate. A provision to curb qualified immunity — which shields police officers from most civil lawsuits — poses the biggest remaining obstacle toward reaching a deal.
The House has left Washington until next month, so lawmakers likely will not meet Biden’s call to pass a bill by the one-year anniversary of Floyd’s death. Negotiators, who include Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., and Sens. Tim Scott, R-S.C., and Cory Booker, D-N.J., are expected to continue talks this week.
“One year ago, George Floyd’s murder awakened millions of people around the world who had never before witnessed the deadly consequences of the failures in our policing system,” the three lawmakers said in a joint statement Monday. “This anniversary serves as a painful reminder of why we must make meaningful change.”
“While we are still working through our differences on key issues, we continue to make progress toward a compromise and remain optimistic about the prospects of achieving that goal,” they continued.
Biden, who has called for approval of the House-passed bill, will meet with Floyd’s family on Tuesday. On Monday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the meeting will be private and will include Floyd’s daughter, mother and siblings.
Psaki said Biden is “hopeful that he will be able to sign the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act into law.” She added that the White House is “engaged” with the congressional negotiators while “leaving them room to work.” Biden spoke with Booker on Friday.
Democrats have called to roll back qualified immunity to hold officers more accountable for violating civil rights or using excessive force, in part because killings by police rarely lead to criminal convictions. Republicans have raised concerns that weakening the provision could cause officers to face excessive lawsuits.
Scott has floated the prospect of making departments, rather than individual police, liable in civil cases.
It is unclear now what compromise on qualified immunity could win over enough Democratic and Republican votes for a bill to get through Congress. A group of 10 House progressives on Friday called on negotiators to “not only maintain but strengthen the provision of eliminating qualified immunity” as the talks proceed.
Booker said Sunday he is “determined at this negotiating table to get” a provision ending qualified immunity.
The Justice in Policing Act as passed by the House would ban chokeholds, carotid holds and “no-knock” search warrants at the federal level. It would also tie federal funding for state and local law enforcement to officials banning those practices. It would make it easier to prosecute police and create a national database of police misconduct.