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White House to give Congress space on police reform

White House to give Congress space on police reform

White House press secretary Jen PsakiJen PsakiBiden's quiet diplomacy under pressure as Israel-Hamas fighting intensifies Overnight Defense: Administration approves 5M arms sale to Israel | Biden backs ceasefire in call with Netanyahu | Military sexual assault reform push reaches turning point CDC mask update sparks confusion, opposition MORE on Wednesday said President BidenJoe BidenBiden's quiet diplomacy under pressure as Israel-Hamas fighting intensifies Overnight Defense: Administration approves 5M arms sale to Israel | Biden backs ceasefire in call with Netanyahu | Military sexual assault reform push reaches turning point CDC mask update sparks confusion, opposition MORE would look to elevate passage of policing reform as a key issue, but that he would largely remain sidelined as congressional lawmakers work on legislation.

"As he’s thinking about what his joint session speech looks like next week, he has every intention of using it to elevate this issue and talk about the importance of putting police reform measures in place," Psaki said at a briefing with reporters.

"The stage we’re in now is that leaders on the Hill need to have discussions among themselves about where they can find agreement," she continued. "Often in those discussions, the most effective strategy is to allow for space for those conversations to happen privately. Once they come to agreement, and we’re certainly hopeful they’ll do that, we’ll take a look at what that looks like."

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Biden has asked senior aides to work with outside organizations and civil rights groups to work to put pressure on Congress to act, Psaki said, and the president discussed the need for reform with the Congressional Black Caucus during a White House meeting last week.

Biden will not support changing or ending the 60-vote legislative filibuster threshold in order to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, Psaki said, nor will he set a hard deadline as lawmakers work through negotiations.

"We know that democracy in action means there are negotiations, there is compromise," Psaki said. "We’ll see what that looks like. But our objective here is to stay in close touch through senior members of our White House team, through the president himself, to be helpful and constructive and give feedback as needed, but also to leave space for those conversations to happen."

Psaki's comments are sure to raise questions about the lengths to which Biden will go to pass policing reform following the murder conviction of Derek Chauvin. A Minneapolis jury on Tuesday found Chauvin guilty on all three counts he was charged with in the murder of George Floyd in May.

While the House passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act earlier this year, it does not appear to have a path to winning the 10 Republican votes in the Senate needed for passage. Sen. Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottHelping students make informed decisions on college Police reform talks hit familiar stumbling block Biden adds pressure to congressional talks with self-imposed deadlines MORE (R-S.C.) has put forward other proposals, and he is in talks with Sen. Cory BookerCory BookerPolice reform talks hit familiar stumbling block Almost 20 advocacy groups team up to pressure Congress to pass health care bill for immigrants Biden adds pressure to congressional talks with self-imposed deadlines MORE (D-N.J.) and Rep. Karen BassKaren Ruth BassPolice reform talks hit familiar stumbling block Biden adds pressure to congressional talks with self-imposed deadlines Shining a light on COINTELPRO's dangerous legacy MORE (D-Calif.) on a potential compromise bill.

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Floyd's killing in May, and the video of Chauvin kneeling on his neck for nearly 10 minutes, set off nationwide protests against police brutality and racial injustice.

Biden and Vice President Harris called Chauvin's conviction a significant step in getting justice for Floyd, but they underscored the need to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which would overhaul qualified immunity and outlaw no-knock warrants and chokeholds at the federal level, among other reforms intended to increase police accountability.

In a phone call with the Floyd family's lawyer, Ben Crump, after the verdict was read, Biden pledged that his administration would "get a lot more done. We’re going to do a lot. We’re going to stay at it until we get it done." Crump said he hoped the moment would renew momentum to pass the legislation. 

"In my conversations with the Floyd family — and I spoke with them again today — I assured them that we’re going to continue to fight for the passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act so I can sign it into law as quickly as possible," Biden said in prepared remarks on Tuesday night. "And there’s more to do."