There are hopes for a compromise on police reform, but huge political hurdles loom

But hope only goes so far, and the feverish desire among Democratic activists to honor Floyd’s life by passing federal legislation that would hold the police responsible for brutality and misconduct clashes with the reality of a polarized capital. While many Americans – including some Republicans – may approve the Chauvin verdict, Republicans and Democrats are still struggling to reconcile perspectives on how to hold rogue officers accountable for their behavior, posing major challenges to the proposed legislation. stand.

There’s also a broader threat hanging over the compromise efforts: the bitter political forces shaking the country in the wake of Donald Trump’s presidency, which could destroy the already limited scope for bipartisan action. Republicans looking forward to the midterm elections – and, in some cases, future presidential primary races – have a strong incentive to appeal to regular voters by taking a tough stance on law and order and by calling Democrats. demonize as radicals who want to defend the police.

Some Republicans will also argue that since justice was achieved in the Floyd case, claims of systemic racism in law enforcement are exaggerated and therefore no action is needed. This topic of conversation has already surfaced on Fox News.

In this brief moment of sympathy, it is also easy to forget that the GOP’s attempt to portray the Democrats as a threat to law enforcement – largely by falsely suggesting that they are all making radical calls to “ the police. ” to defend ‘- one of their efforts was most powerful weapons in the 2020 election, and will likely remain so when they compete in the mid-term races in 2022.

Even President Joe Biden, who plans to advocate for the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act during his speech before a joint session of Congress next Wednesday, recognized the political dangers facing Democrats in the field of police work during a private virtual meeting with civil rights leaders in December.

On the recording, obtained by The Intercept, Biden told activists that in 2020 Republicans “beat us up across the country” by claiming the party would “defend the police.” After four years in which Trump and his allies have hit the road to working-class union families, who typically support the police, Democrats in swing states may be skittish about leaning too far towards criminal justice reform.

GOP shows little desire to give way

It also remains unclear whether Republicans have any real political incentive to back police reform legislation as they look ahead to next year’s election. Last July, 58% of Americans said major changes were needed within the police in America, according to a Gallup poll, but only 14% of Republicans agreed, while 72% of GOP respondents said that “minor changes” were needed.

Several Republican strategists warned on Wednesday that dissatisfaction with the police – and dislike of Chauvin’s diabolical acts during his meeting with Floyd last May – should not be mistaken for a wave of support for dramatic changes in the laws that govern the police in this country. the GOP basis. .

Support for Chauvin’s ruling, said veteran Republican pollster Neil Newhouse, “does not mean there is support for a national effort to reform the police force.”

“There may be bite-sized pieces for Republicans to go for, but 2022 is likely to be a lower turnout election – a typical by-election, making it a grassroots election,” Newhouse said. “It’s hard to see how striving for a compromise on an issue like this motivates or even helps your base win crossover votes. … Whatever bill the Democrats propose is probably going too far for most moderate Republicans. ”

The Biden administration is aware of the challenging political terrain in Congress and has begun to use the powers of the executive to take a more active role in police reform. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced that the Justice Department has begun a federal civil investigation into police practices in Minneapolis to determine if the police have “a pattern or practice of unconstitutional or unlawful police work.”

Garland noted that the investigation will look at whether the department uses excessive force as well as its policies on training, supervision and “use of force.” Biden has also expressed confidence in the leadership of Vanita Gupta, who was confirmed as associate attorney general on Wednesday after GOP Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska broke ranks with her party to support Gupta, stating that she has the skills and experience to match. needed to help “eradicate unconstitutional policing and reform our criminal justice system.”

But the executive branch has its limits, and in the end, both Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have recognized that changing the laws in Congress offers the most lasting opportunity for reform.

Signs of hope from the Senate

In the Senate, a genuine attempt at compromise seems to be unfolding, led for Republicans by South Carolina’s Tim Scott – the sole Black GOP senator – and for Democrats by New Jersey Senator Cory Booker.

For months, talks were complicated by disagreements over the issue of qualified immunity from the police – a judicial doctrine that protects agents from personal liability for constitutional violations as long as they don’t break the law – and attempts in the bill to make it easier to prosecute officers on under Article 242 of the Criminal Code. Reform proponents say qualified immunity effectively provides police with impunity for using excessive force in encounters with black Americans.

Still, Scott said the informal talks could be concluded in the next two weeks. And Booker called his Republican colleague an “honest broker.” Democratic Rep. California’s Karen Bass, who wrote the House Bill, has said she believes Scott is sincere in seeking a deal, and on Wednesday he raised a possible compromise on qualified immunity.

“There is a way to put the burden more on the department or the employer than on the employee,” he said Wednesday. “I think that might be a logical step forward and that, as I’ve been talking to Karen Bass for the past few weeks, is something the Democrats are very open to.”

Scott, who has filed a less sweeping bill than the one the Democrat-led House passed, said changes to section 242 language were “off the table” for him.

Bass said on CNN’s “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer” Wednesday that it was worth considering Scott’s approach, but that police officers should be held accountable, in comments that seemed to indicate sharp disagreements with the South Carolinian.

“Qualified immunity and Section 242… those are really key components of the bill, and we need to make sure there is,” she said. “That’s why Derek Chauvin felt so arrogant about torturing George Floyd to death.”

Bottlenecks in the most important aspects

Any compromise on qualified immunity should continue with progressives and civil rights groups, who see it as essential to undo decades of discrimination and brutality against black Americans.

Progressive Democratic Rep. Jamaal Bowman of New York told CNN on Wednesday that shifting liability from police officers to their departments would not be acceptable. Reformers argue that police officers should bear individual responsibility for their actions.

“The crux of the problem is that it’s not just the police forces as a whole – it’s officers who can act with impunity,” said Damon Hewitt, acting president and executive director of the impartial civil rights lawyers’ committee. Law.

“Is there anything that would counterbalance them from doing the things Derek Chauvin did? Liability to the police would be insufficient in my opinion to do that,” said Hewitt.

Proponents of retaining qualified immunity say stripping it would cause officers to hesitate in sudden, dangerous situations where violence might be needed and when negligence could endanger them or civil bystanders.

“Officers perform crucial tasks that under intense circumstances must make split-second decisions,” Florida Republican Representative Carlos Gimenez said during a debate on the George Floyd Act before it took effect in the House in March. Gimenez argued that the lifting of qualified immunity would result in agents retiring and making the community less safe, as it would be “impossible for them to do their job.”

But while the debate, for Republicans led by pro-Trump flamethrower Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, which contained some principled arguments about the bill, it was also rife with the party politics that could doom the Senate compromise.

“What this bill ultimately does is defuse the police,” said Florida Republican Representative Kat Cammack, using a slogan popularized by Trump and conservative opinion leaders for his harsh “law and order” story during the presidential campaign. 2020 a boost. “You say this is reform law. I say this is BS”

Terry Sullivan, a longtime Republican strategist and partner at Firehouse Strategies, said it remains to be seen whether leaders within the two parties can urge their members to move beyond the current dynamic that has caused so much paralysis in Congress, which he described as “an all or nothing game” where “you’d rather have a problem beating your opponent with” than get a partial victory on policy.

“This is a perfect example of the bigger problem in Congress right now,” said Sullivan, “when, given the choice between short-term political victory and long-term policy goals, short-term political victory almost always wins.”