WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — The anniversary of George Floyd’s death was supposed to be a milestone moment, a time to mark passage of legislation to “root out systemic racism” in the criminal justice system, in the words of President Joe Biden. Instead, Floyd’s family visited Washington on Tuesday to mourn with Biden and prod Congress to act as they commemorate the loss of their brother, father and son one year ago.
Floyd’s death sparked a global reckoning over racism and growing calls for police reform, but a legislative response has been elusive. Still, congressional negotiators remain optimistic about the prospects for a bill, and say they’ve made progress toward an agreement this week.
It’s a high-profile legislative fight where Biden has notably taken a back seat, preferring to leave the work of crafting a compromise to lawmakers on Capitol Hill, in contrast to his fevered advocacy, both public and private, for his infrastructure bill and the COVID-19 relief package.
White House advisers say Biden and his team have been in frequent touch with Capitol Hill negotiators over the legislation, but that this is an issue in which a high-profile public campaign by the president might do more harm than good, because of the political challenges surrounding the bill.
The Floyd family has multiple opportunities to weigh in on the congressional efforts Tuesday. In addition to their visit to the White House, the family was meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Rep. Karen Bass, the lead House negotiator on the policing bill, as well as key senators.
While Biden set the anniversary of Floyd’s death as the initial deadline for legislation to reach his desk, the issue of police reform is a particularly politically thorny one. Congressional negotiators have struggled to find a compromise that can make it through an evenly divided Senate.
Floyd died on May 25, 2020 after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck for more than nine minutes, while Floyd repeatedly said he couldn’t breathe. His death sparked months of nationwide protests focused on systemic racism and a renewed debate over police reform in the U.S. Chauvin was convicted last month on multiple charges stemming from Floyd’s death.
The Democratic-controlled House approved a sweeping bill in March that would make it easier for individual police officers to be sued and charged with crimes. It would also ban chokeholds, limit no-knock warrants and create a national database of officers with histories of complaints and disciplinary problems.
That bill has gone nowhere in the Senate, where the 50 Democrats will need support from at least 10 Republicans to overcome a bill-killing filibuster. GOP lawmakers have preferred more modest changes.
Though they’ve recently expressed increased optimism about striking a deal, congressional bargainers have been laboring for weeks in search of a compromise on overhauling police procedures.
Negotiators’ chief stumbling block has been over “qualified immunity,” which generally shields individual officers from civil lawsuits. Democrats have wanted to eliminate that protection while South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, the lead Republican bargainer, has proposed retaining that immunity for officers but allowing lawsuits against police departments.
While progressives and many criminal justice reform advocates are insistent that the bill eliminate protections for individual officers, some Democrats, most notably House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn of South Carolina and Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois have said they could see a compromise on the issue. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said he wouldn’t support any bill that ends qualified immunity.
Scott and the top two Democratic bargainers — Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey and California Rep. Bass — have displayed a steady solidarity that’s unusual for congressional negotiations, striking a consistently optimistic tone and never publicly sniping at each
Scott went further on Monday, telling reporters for the first time that he believed he could see “the end of the tunnel” while cautioning that he didn’t expect a deal this week. Booker said Tuesday on “CBS This Morning” that he was hoping “we can get something done in the weeks ahead, not months.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.