Bipartisan police reform legislation talks end without a deal, Sen. Booker says

Once-promising negotiations for a sweeping bipartisan police reform bill have broken down and Democrats will now “explore all other options,” Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., said Wednesday.

Booker and Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., had been trying to work out a deal with Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., since the House passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act in March, legislation that lacked enough Republican support to clear the Senate.

“We made it clear from the beginning of our negotiations that a bill must ensure true accountability, transparency, and the policing standards necessary to bring an end to horrific incidents of violence Americans are routinely seeing — like the murder of George Floyd. After months of exhausting every possible pathway to a bipartisan deal, it remains out of reach right now,” Booker said in a statement.

He noted the negotiators worked with law enforcement organizations on some of the proposed reforms.

“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,” Booker said.

“The time has come to explore all other options to achieve meaningful and common sense policing reform,” he added.

It was unclear what the other options could be since passing legislation in the Senate is likely to require some Republican support.

Scott said he was “deeply disappointed” by the announcement, and said “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. Crime will continue to increase while safety decreases, and more officers are going to walk away from the force because my negotiating partners walked away from the table.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki blamed the breakdown on Republicans, and said President Joe Biden may take executive action on the issue.

“Republicans rejected reforms that even the previous president had supported and refuse to engage on key issues that many law enforcement, were willing to address and so we’re disappointed. The president is disappointed,” Psaki said.

Biden said in a statement that “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 added that White House would continue to work with lawmakers “who are serious about meaningful police reform” while also consulting with civil rights leaders and law enforcement about potential executive orders.

The issue of reforming qualified immunity, which shields police from civil liability, had been a sticking point in the talks, but Booker told reporters there were other areas of disagreement as well. “At this negotiating table, in this moment, we were not making progress. In fact, a recent back and forth … showed me that we were actually moving away from it,” he said.

The talks had been dragging on for months with more setbacks than successes. They came to a critical juncture in June when Booker reached an agreement with the Fraternal Order of Police on changes to qualified immunity. But Scott walked away, saying that he couldn’t support it because the sheriffs balked.

Since then, the two parties have failed to reach consensus on several issues, including no-knock warrants, which was used when Breonna Taylor was killed, and the criminalization of excessive use of force.

Scott countered that the two sides had “plenty of agreement” and would have made a difference to “families of victims who have lost their lives at the hands of police.”

“The areas where we agreed—banning chokeholds, limiting the transfer of military equipment, increased mental health resources, and more—would have brought justice to these families,” Scott said.

In a separate statement, Bass agreed with Booker that the bill had gotten too watered down.

“We 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 the issue. But every time, more was demanded to the point that there would be no progress made in the bill we were left discussing,” she said.

Bass said the breakdown calls for a “re-engagement of the legislative process,” and urged President Joe Biden and the White House to “use their constitutionally-mandated power to bring about meaningful police reform.”

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