Key moments from Biden's joint session of Congress

Police reform: Bipartisan talks begin as Biden says he wants bill by anniversary of George Floyd murder

President wants criminal justice overhaul ‘done’ by Memorial Day

Alex Woodward
New York
Thursday 29 April 2021 18:28
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A bipartisan group of lawmakers in Congress, including Republican Senator Tim Scott, who delivered his party’s rebuttal to Joe Biden’s address on Wednesday, are meeting to negotiate a nationwide police reform bill.

The president has urged Congress to pass a measure – which will be named in honour of George Floyd, who was murdered by a Minneapolis police officer – by the one-year anniversary of his death on 25 May.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senators Scott, Cory Booker and Lindsey Grahaam also met with civil rights attorney Ben Crump and the families of victims of police violence on Thursday, hours after the conclusion of the president’s speech to Congress.

The senators, along with Democratic US Rep Karen Bass and two House Republicans, will all meet on Thursday.

The Democrat-majority House of Representatives passed a version of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, led by Ms Bass, last month. It has stalled in an evenly divided Senate where a majority of Republicans are likely to reject the proposal, sending lawmakers into negotiations to reach a consensus on police reform, one of few issues with room for bipartisan compromise.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters on Thursday that she will bring a version of a bipartisan bill to the House floor “when we’re ready”.

“And we’ll be ready when we have a good, strong, bipartisan bill,” she said.

In his first address to a joint session of Congress, the president urged lawmakers to “work together to find a consensus” on criminal justice reforms

“Let’s get it done next month, by the first anniversary of George Floyd’s death,” he said.

The House-passed version of the bill would change the threshold for permitting use of force, prohibit police chokeholds at the federal level, ban no-knock warrants in federal drug cases, and create a national registry of police misconduct cases under the auspices of the Justice Department, among other reforms.

It also would overhaul “qualified immunity” policies, which can shield officers from civil lawsuits and make it easier to prosecute police for killing people or engaging in misconduct – which Republicans have sought to limit.

None of the proposals would cut police funding, despite Republican opposition over their false assertions that Democrats are “defunding the police” after summer-long protests demanded local governments shift police department funding into other social services.

In a brief exchange captured by cameras as the president left the House chamber on Wednesday night, he spoke with US Rep Troy Nehls of Texas – among Republican lawmakers who supported rejecting election results to prevent Mr Biden’s presidency.

“I want to help with the criminal justice reform,” he told the president. “I want to be a part of it. It’s needed ... I don’t know how to reach out to you, but I have the experience.”

The president told him: “I’ll reach out to you.”

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