Washington — Members of George Floyd’s family are in Washington on Tuesday to meet with President Biden and top congressional leaders,after his death at the hands of a white police officer rocked the country and sparked nationwide protests against police brutality.
Floyd’s relatives are first traveling to Capitol Hill to meet with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Congresswoman Karen Bass, who is one of the leaders of the ongoing bipartisan, bicameral negotiations to reach a deal on police reform legislation. They will then go to the White House for.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday that Mr. Biden would hold a private meeting with members of Floyd’s family “in order to have a real conversation.”
“He has a genuine relationship with them. And the courage and grace of this family — and especially his daughter, Gianna — has really stuck with the president,” Psaki said.
Floyd died on May 25, 2020, after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pinned Floyd down with a knee to his neck for roughly nine minutes, while Floyd repeatedly said that he couldn’t breathe. Video of Chauvin’s actions sparked nationwide outrage and prompted months of demonstrations against systemic racism. Chauvin was convicted on all counts related to Floyd’s death last month, sparking to pass comprehensive police reform legislation.
In his address before a joint session of Congress last month, Mr. Biden urged Congress to reach a deal by the first anniversary of Floyd’s death. But Congress will miss that deadline, and some ideological differences hindering the progress of negotiations remain.
The Housein March, a comprehensive reform bill that would ban chokeholds and no-knock warrants in drug cases, create a National Police Misconduct Registry and encourage states to establish standards for investigating deaths involving police.
The bill also included a provision to overhaul qualified immunity, which would make it easier to prosecute individual law enforcement officers. Members of the Floyd family were on Capitol Hill last month to support the passage of this bill. But Republicans oppose eliminating qualified immunity, arguing that it could result in frivolous lawsuits and unnecessary punishment for officers who are acting in good faith.
“The president is still very hopeful that he will be able to sign the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act into law,” Psaki said Monday. “We are very closely engaged with negotiators while also leaving [the Senate] room to work.”
Bass, Democratic Senator Cory Booker and Republican Senator Tim Scott said in a joint statement on Monday that they “continue to make progress toward a compromise and remain optimistic about the prospects of achieving that goal.”
Bassthat “everybody has been a little over-focused on qualified immunity because there’s a lot more to the bill than that.”
“We have not come to an agreement on qualified immunity — that’s an overstatement — but I do think that we are closer and are trying to look for various solutions,” Bass said.
But Booker said in an interview with CBS News on Tuesday that he would work to ensure that ending qualified immunity was in the final bill.
“Qualified immunity is something I strongly believe should not be there, and I actually fully believe that in the course of history, it will be gone. I’m trying to make that moment now, and I’m fighting to make sure that’s a part of this bill,” Booker said.
Negotiators are facing pressure from the left as well as the right to craft a deal that is acceptable to all. House progressives insisted that ending qualified immunity for law enforcement officers must be part of any final police reform package in a letter to House and Senate leadership last week.
“Given that police violence, as a weapon of structural racism, continues to have devastating and deadly consequences for Black and brown lives across our country, we strongly urge you to not only maintain but strengthen the provision eliminating qualified immunity as negotiations in the Senate continue,” the lawmakers wrote.
Lawmakers have also sparred over changing Section 242 of the U.S. Code to require a jury to decide whether a law enforcement officer acted with reckless disregard in order to convict, rather than the current standard of “willfulness.”
Despite the continued deadlock in negotiations, Booker said that he believed there was momentum to reach a deal.
“This bill that we are working on right now would not have been possible, I think, before George Floyd. His death, tragic and in pain, we all must make sure that it wasn’t in vain and that something substantive comes out of it,” Booker said.
Nikole Killion contributed reporting.