McConnell signals concern over changes to qualified immunity in police reform

Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellLindsey Graham: Police need 'to take a firm line' with Sept. 18 rally attendees Manchin keeps Washington guessing on what he wants CEOs urge Congress to raise debt limit or risk 'avoidable crisis' MORE (Ky.) signaled concerns on Tuesday about changes to a legal shield for police officers — a major sticking point in bipartisan police reform negotiations on Capitol Hill. 

"The whole problem it seems to me in this whole area of police reform ... is without qualified immunity, how do you get people to do law enforcement work?" McConnell said at a stop in Kentucky. 

"We're grappling with that issue in Washington," McConnell added. 

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McConnell's remarks come amid months of behind-the-scenes negotiations to try to reach a policy reform deal. 

Sen. Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottDOJ announces agencywide limits on chokeholds and no-knock entries Lobbying world As Biden falters, a two-man race for the 2024 GOP nomination begins to take shape MORE (S.C.), the only Black Senate Republican, is leading the talks with Sen. Cory BookerCory BookerDOJ announces agencywide limits on chokeholds and no-knock entries Fighting poverty, the Biden way Top Senate Democrats urge Biden to take immediate action on home confinement program MORE (D-N.J.) and Rep. Karen BassKaren Ruth BassDOJ announces agencywide limits on chokeholds and no-knock entries The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by AT&T - Supreme Court lets Texas abortion law stand Bass says she is 'seriously considering' running for LA mayor MORE (D-Calif.). They've pointed to June as a key self-imposed deadline to reach an agreement, after passing the one-year mark since George Floyd's murder on May 25 without a deal. 

“I think it’s June or bust,” Scott told reporters last week when asked about a timeline. “I think we have three weeks in June to get this done.” 

The group is still working through two of the biggest sticking points to a deal: qualified immunity, a legal doctrine that shields police officers from being sued, and changes to Section 242, the criminal standard for convicting law enforcement.

"We're still working through that process," Scott said when asked about qualified immunity. 

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The House has already twice passed a sweeping bill named after Floyd, a Black man killed when a white police officer kneeled on his neck. The bill would ban chokeholds, carotid holds and no-knock warrants at the federal level, overhaul qualified immunity and create a national police misconduct registry.

But the bill went nowhere in the GOP-controlled Senate last year, where Democrats blocked a narrower bill offered by Scott that did not overhaul qualified immunity. Democrats, who now have the majority, haven't yet brought up police reform legislation this year. 

McConnell, speaking in Kentucky on Tuesday, teed off against calls from calls from some progressives to "defund the police," describing it as "one of the dumbest ideas ever surfaced by anyone in our country."

He also linked the discussions about making changes to legal protections to reports of an increase across the country in police retirements. 

"If you can't get people to do the work it's going to make it pretty hard," he said. 

And most Republicans are wary of, if not outright opposed to, making changes to qualified immunity. 

"I don't support eliminating qualified immunity," said Sen. John CornynJohn CornynDemocrats make case to Senate parliamentarian for 8 million green cards Democrats to make pitch Friday for pathway to citizenship in spending bill Without major changes, more Americans could be victims of online crime MORE (R-Texas), an adviser to McConnell. "But I'm going to take a lot of my cues from Senator Scott."