Police reform talks hit familiar stumbling block

Police reform talks hit familiar stumbling block
© Greg Nash

Police reform negotiations are hitting a familiar stumbling block: How to hold officers accountable.

Sens. Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottSen. Manchin paves way for a telehealth revolution Kerry Washington backs For the People Act: 'Black and Brown voters are being specifically targeted' The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Bipartisan group reaches infrastructure deal; many questions remain MORE (R-S.C.) and Cory BookerCory BookerThis week: Senate set for voting rights fight Congress must act to correct flaws in the First Step Act Democrats introduce resolution apologizing to LGBT community for government discrimination MORE (D-N.J.) and Rep. Karen BassKaren Ruth BassBlack Republican advocates his case for CBC membership Tim Scott: Could be 'very hard' to reach police reform deal by June deadline Police reform negotiations enter crucial stretch MORE (D-Calif.) met on Wednesday but acknowledged that they appeared to be on opposite sides of how to deal with qualified immunity, a legal shield that protects police officers from some lawsuits.

Bass, a former chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus who spearheaded a sweeping reform bill in the House, told reporters after the meeting that Democrats believe qualified immunity "has to be eliminated."


"I'm on the exact opposite side," Scott separately told reporters, while saying that the talks were "making progress."

The three lawmakers have been holding discussions on police reform, but those talks ramped up in recent weeks, including convening a larger negotiating group late last month. President BidenJoe BidenMilitary must better understand sexual assaults to combat them The Hill's Equilibrium — Presented by NextEra Energy — Tasmanian devil wipes out penguin population On The Money: Democrats make full-court press on expanded child tax credit | White House confident Congress will raise debt ceiling MORE is publicly pressuring lawmakers to reach a deal by May 25, the one-year anniversary of the murder of George Floyd.

But qualified immunity, and what if any changes to make it to it, has been a key sticking point to getting a larger agreement.

"Really the biggest concern I have is for the individual officer. ... I don't think there's going to be any agreement that changes qualified immunity," said Sen. John CornynJohn CornynProgressive groups launch .5M ad buy to pressure Sinema on filibuster Black lawmakers warn against complacency after Juneteenth victory The Senate is where dreams go to die MORE (R-Texas), an adviser to GOP Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDemocrats go down to the wire with Manchin Schumer unloads on GOP over elections bill: 'How despicable of a man is Donald Trump?' This week: Senate set for voting rights fight MORE (Ky.).

He added that House Majority Whip James Clyburn's (D-S.C.) recent comments suggesting dropping qualified immunity from the talks if it was standing in the way of a larger deal were "encouraging."


Scott has floated suing departments instead of individual officers, an idea that some Democrats have stopped short of endorsing but characterized as moving in the right direction.

Lawmakers have also been at odds about Section 242, which outlines when police officers can be criminally prosecuted, with many Republicans viewing changes as a bridge too far. And Scott indicated earlier this week that negotiators were still in discussion about a database tracking police misconduct.

"I look at it as a human resources issue versus public consumption," Scott said of the database.

To try to help break the stalemates, the Justice Department is now involved with the talks.

"They have been consulted, as you would expect, particularly for technical expertise to make sure that we understand what changes will have an effect on policing in America," said Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinDemocrats go down to the wire with Manchin Overnight Health Care: Takeaways on the Supreme Court's Obamacare decision | COVID-19 cost 5.5 million years of American life | Biden administration investing billions in antiviral pills for COVID-19 COVID-19 long-haulers press Congress for paid family leave MORE (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat who has been involved in the talks.

Cornyn added that the Justice Department's involvement could be "helpful depending on what their objective is."

"I mean, if they want to help us come up with workable language, then that's a very useful contribution," he said.

The sticking points come as lawmakers are barreling toward the informal May 25 deadline, which they've been careful not to commit to as they appear increasingly likely to miss it.

Asked if they could get a deal before the Memorial Day recess, Durbin demurred, telling reporters, "You always want a deadline."

Asked about the May 25 deadline, Cornyn quipped: "Whose deadline is that?"

"He doesn't, obviously, set deadlines for Congress, Congress has its own rhythm," he added about Biden.