Lawmakers say police reform talks are over

A bipartisan group of lawmakers spearheading police reform negotiations say their talks are officially over amid deep divisions that they weren’t able to overcome. 

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), who has been negotiating with Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) for months, said on Wednesday that those talks had ended without a deal to reform police tactics and put new accountability measures in place. 

“After months of exhausting every possible pathway to a bipartisan deal, it remains out of reach right now,” Booker said in a statement. 

“Unfortunately, even with this law enforcement support and further compromises we offered, there was still too wide a gulf with our negotiating partners and we faced significant obstacles to securing a bipartisan deal,” he added.

Bass assigned the blame to Senate Republicans, arguing that they were moving goalposts. 

Democrats “accepted significant compromises, knowing that they would be a tough sell to our community, but still believing that we would be moving the needle forward on this issue. But every time, more was demanded to the point that there would be no progress made in the bill that we were left discussing,” she said.

Scott, the only Black Republican in the Senate, said in a statement that he was “deeply disappointed” by the outcome but fired back at Democrats.

“Democrats have once again squandered a crucial opportunity to implement meaningful reform to make our neighborhoods safer and mend the tenuous relationship between law enforcement and communities of color,” Scott said.

“I offered to introduce a bill that included our areas of compromise—a bill that activists and law enforcement alike could have supported,” the South Carolina senator continued. 

“Despite having plenty of agreement, Democrats said no because they could not let go of their push to defund our law enforcement.”

The announcement that the talks are over comes after the group missed self-imposed deadline after self-imposed deadline to try to arrive at an agreement. The group had announced in late July that they had come up with a framework, but they were unable to reach a final agreement though they talked as recently as this week.

The House has already twice passed a sweeping bill named after George Floyd, a Black man killed when a white police officer kneeled on his neck, that bans chokeholds, carotid holds and “no-knock” warrants at the federal level; overhauls qualified immunity; and creates 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. 

A running point of concern for Republicans was changes to qualified immunity, a legal shield for police officers, as well as Section 242, which outlines when police officers can be criminally prosecuted, with many Republicans viewing changes as a bridge too far.

Booker told reporters that Democrats had dropped their push for “comprehensive” police reform but still faced sticking points on trying to get agreement on raising professional standards, creating accountability and bolstering transparency. 

“This pathway now seems to be closed, but we will find other pathways,” he said. 

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) hasn’t said if he’ll bring the House bill up for a vote now that talks have unraveled. But even if he did, it doesn’t have the 10 GOP votes needed to currently break a filibuster. 

It’s the latest bipartisan agreement that has unraveled, after separate group efforts on immigration legislation and background checks hit similar walls this year. 

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the Congressional Progressive Caucus leader, said the collapse of the police reform talks is another reason why the filibuster should be changed so that Democrats can pursue their priorities.

“We gotta reform the filibuster. That’s what it comes down to,” Jayapal said. “It’s really the tyranny of the minority.”

But there aren’t currently the votes in the Senate Democratic Caucus to nix the filibuster, and advocates are looking at other ways to get reforms done. 

Bass said it was time for Democrats and the administration to look at potential steps they could take to improve police accountability without action from Congress. 

“With our counterparts unwilling to come to a compromise, we have no other option than to explore further avenues to stop police brutality in this country,” she said. 

“I now call on President Biden and the White House to use the full extent of their constitutionally-mandated power to bring about meaningful police reform,” she added. 

The Justice Department announced reforms last week for federal law enforcement under its jurisdiction banning chokeholds and putting new limits on the use of no-knock entries. 

Attorney General Merrick Garland also said that he is making a series of changes to how federal monitors — who serve key oversight roles in the agency’s police reform efforts — operate. 

“In one of my first acts as attorney general, I asked Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta to conduct a review of what can be done to ensure that monitorships are independent, highly qualified and free of conflicts of interest,” Garland said.

Biden on Wednesday noted the steps his administration has already taken to address police reform and said he would continue to work with Booker, Bass, Scott and community stakeholders on the issue, as well as consider taking executive actions.

“I still hope to sign into law a comprehensive and meaningful police reform bill that honors the name and memory of George Floyd, because we need legislation to ensure lasting and meaningful change. But this moment demands action, and we cannot allow those who stand in the way of progress to prevent us from answering the call,” he said.

Cristina Marcos and Marty Johnson contributed. Updated at 4:28 p.m.

Tags Charles Schumer Cory Booker Joe Biden Karen Bass Merrick Garland police reform Pramila Jayapal Tim Scott

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