On Floyd death anniversary, lawmakers optimistic on police reform amid 'Squad' demands that could kill bill

Biden to host George Floyd family one year after his death

Civil Rights attorney Leo Terrell on President Biden hosting George Floyd’s family one year after his death.

Sen. Tim Scott told reporters Monday night that bipartisan negotiators see “light at the end of the tunnel” on police reform on the eve of the anniversary of George Floyd’s death Tuesday. 

“We continue to work on the process, and I think we have good, good progress over the weekend I thought, and I think we can see the end of the tunnel,” Scott, R-S.C., the chief negotiator for Republicans on the issue, said. He added there won’t be a final agreement this week but lawmakers are starting to see a viable framework for a deal. 

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., one of the Democrats’ police reform negotiators, expressed similar optimism Monday. 

“We made a lot of progress over the weekend. So, we still have a lot of work to do. But the great thing about this bill is that, that everybody wants to get something really meaningful done,” Booker said. “And I was grateful for the amount of work that we’ve done. “

Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., in 2020 in Washington, D.C. Scott is the Republicans’ head negotiator on police reform. (Photo by Bonnie Cash-Pool/Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

The current police reform effort in Congress comes after racial justice in policing was one of the major political issues of 2020, largely due to the death of George Floyd at the hands of former Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin. Chauvin was convicted of second-degree murder, among other charges, earlier this year.

In a viral video, Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck and upper back for more than nine minutes as Floyd said he couldn’t breathe. Floyd later died. 

The video spawned protests in Minneapolis and cities across the United States over how minorities are treated by police, some of which turned into violent riots. 

Policing, racial justice and rioting proceeded to be major issues in the 2020 presidential election. Former President Trump promised to be the law-and-order candidate. President Biden, than a candidate, harnessed the political energy of the Black Lives Matter movement in his campaign. This was no clearer than during the Democratic Convention, where the movement held a significant spotlight. 

Floyd’s death also spurred some action in Congress last year, with lawmakers on both sides coming up with their own police reform proposals. But neither side could agree, and Democrats filibustered Scott’s proposal. Scott hit back in a passionate speech in which he accused Democrats of wanting to wait until after the presidential election for political reasons. 

This year, however, there’s been slow but steady progress in bipartisan discussions between Scott, Booker and Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., lawmakers have said. 

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Monday that he believes negotiations are “inside the 20-yard line.” 

“When people try to get to yes, they normally do,” Graham added. 

Booker, Bass and Scott on Monday issued a joint statement saying, “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.”

But the bipartisan lawmakers’ work was threatened last week when a group of left-wing Democrats in the House, mainly consisting of members of the “Squad,” demanded that any police reform legislation include qualified immunity reform. 

“We are concerned by recent discussions that the provision ending qualified immunity for local, state, and federal law enforcement may be removed in order to strike a bipartisan deal in the Senate,” they said in a letter. “Given that police violence, as a weapon of structural racism, continues to have devastating and deadly consequences for Black and brown lives across our country, we strongly urge you to not only maintain but strengthen the provision eliminating qualified immunity as negotiations in the Senate continue.”

Qualified immunity is a protection that shields government officials of all stripes from being personally sued for violating somebody’s rights in the course of reasonably doing their jobs unless the breached rights are “clearly established in the law.” In practice, this often means that police officers who go well beyond their authority in handling an incident cannot be held civilly liable for their actions. 

The letter adds: “In March, the House passed the bipartisan George Floyd Justice in Policing Act with the inclusion of the provision to eliminate qualified immunity for police officers, and now the Senate must do the same.”

The letter came after Senate Democrats had apparently indicated they’d be willing to punt on qualified immunity reform in the current policing bill to secure Republican votes. 

It’s unclear how Scott, Booker and Bass plan to handle the “Squad” Democrats’ demands. 

It appears very unlikely a bill with changes to qualified immunity could make it through the Senate, where it will need 10 Republican votes to clear a filibuster. But the 10 Democrats who signed that letter can block any bill in the House that doesn’t have qualified immunity reform if they stick together to vote against it. 

Any proposal bipartisan negotiators finally reveal will also have to survive a hyper-partisan environment on Capitol Hill as it’s dissected by lawmakers, the media and outside interest groups. And it also may be threatened during an amendment process, when individual lawmakers may insert provisions that could serve as poison pills for others. 

Also on the anniversary of Floyd’s death, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Bass plan to meet with his family. Biden will do the same in a separate meeting. It’s unclear if any Republicans will do the same. Scott said Monday he was not sure if he would meet with Floyd’s family.

Fox News’ Jason Donner, Caroline McKee and Kelly Phares contributed to this report. 

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