The White House slammed Senate Republicans on Wednesday after months-long bipartisan talks about overhauling laws around the American policing system broke down without a deal.
In separate statements, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris praised Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) for working on the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, a sweeping police reform bill named after the Black man, murdered by Minneapolis police in 2020, who served as a catalyst for nationwide protests against police brutality and racial injustice.
“This bill would hold law enforcement accountable and provide greater transparency when there is police misconduct and use of excessive force,” said Harris, who as a senator introduced the original Justice in Policing Act with Booker and Bass. “It is part of George Floyd’s legacy, Breonna Taylor’s legacy and that of so many others who were victims of police misconduct. It is part of our collective responsibility to one other. While legislation would not have been a panacea, it would have been a step towards equal justice.”
The goal was to pass the bill by May 25, the anniversary of Floyd’s death. Not only did lawmakers miss that deadline, but as of Wednesday the bipartisan negotiations also fell through. Booker, Bass and Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) spent the past six months trying to shape a bill that would win 60 votes in the Senate, but the legislation faced several hurdles, such as qualified immunity, a legal doctrine that protects police from being sued in civil court.
“Today … we learned that Senate Republicans chose to reject even the most modest reforms. Their refusal to act is unconscionable,” Harris said. “Millions of people marched in the streets to see reform and accountability, not further inaction. Moving forward, we are committed to exploring every available action at the executive level to advance the cause of justice in our nation.”
Booker told reporters that he made it clear in a private conversation with Scott that bipartisan negotiations are over, adding that “recent back-and-forth … showed me that we were moving away from” progress. Bass confirmed the fallout on the House end and said that the next step is for the Biden administration to intervene.
“The problem is, at some point you just have to say, ‘Are you going to come to agreements or not?’ That’s it,” she told reporters. “It wasn’t like there was a big fight. It wasn’t like there was a big rupture, but at a certain point you have to recognize that you’re just spinning your wheels.”
Biden said that he still hopes to sign a “comprehensive and meaningful” police reform bill that honors Floyd, “but this moment demands action, and we cannot allow those who stand in the way of progress to prevent us from answering the call.” He mentioned his Justice Department’s policies on chokeholds, no-knock warrants and body cameras.
The White House said it will continue working with Booker, Bass and other members of Congress who “are serious about meaningful police reform” and will continue consulting civil rights leaders, law enforcement professionals and victims’ families to “define a path forward, including through potential further executive actions I can take to advance our efforts to live up to the American ideal of equal justice under law.”
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