Booker ends bipartisan talks over police reform, citing ‘too wide a gulf’ with Republicans

  • Bipartisan talks over police reform begun after the police murder of George Floyd have failed.
  • Sen. Booker called off talks after Republicans rejected a “bare minimum” final offer on Tuesday.
  • Rep. Bass is now calling for President Biden to take action, possibly via executive orders.

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Months of negotiations between Democrats and Republicans on possible police reform measures have concluded without a deal, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey announced on Wednesday.

“After months of exhausting every possible pathway to a bipartisan deal, it remains out of reach right now, even after working collaboratively with and securing the support of policing groups like the Fraternal Order of Police and International Association of Chiefs of Police for our proposals,” 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.

—Jack Turman III (@jackturmanIII) September 22, 2021

In a statement released on Wednesday, Republican Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina blamed Democrats for the failure to reach an agreement. “Despite having plenty of agreement, Democrats said no because they could not let go of their push to defund our law enforcement,” Scott said. “Once again, the Left let their misguided idea of perfect be the enemy of good, impactful legislation.”

President Joe Biden also issued a statement, blaming Republicans for “refusing to take action on key issues that many in law enforcement were willing to address” while vowing to continue to work on further police reform legislation.

Bipartisan negotiations over police reform began last year following the police murder of George Floyd in May 2020, a moment that brought police brutality and unequal treatment of Black Americans to the forefront of political conversation.

After the House passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act on a party-line vote in March of this year — which would have banned chokeholds, get rid of “qualified immunity” for police officers, and prohibit no-knock warrants in federal drug cases — Rep. Karen Bass and Booker negotiating with Republican Sen. Tim Scott in the hopes of crafting an agreement that would clear the Senate’s 60-vote threshold.

But the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that Republicans and Democrats disagreed over how officers should be held liable for wrongdoing, particularly on “qualified immunity,” which prevents public officials from being held personally liable for wrongdoing that occurs while on the job and makes it difficult to sue police officers.

Booker and Bass made a “bare minimum” final offer to Republicans on Tuesday that included curtailing chokeholds and limiting the transfer of military equipment to police departments, but Republicans wouldn’t agree to that either.

Further action on police reform may now largely fall to the executive branch. The Department of Justice announced last week that it was explicitly prohibiting the use of chokeholds and “no-knock warrants” — which allows police to enter homes without prior announcement or consent — but that policy only applies to federal agents.

“I am disappointed, but what we are doing is calling on the administration to act, to the full extent that they can, whether that’s an executive order, whether that’s issuing instructions whatever they can do,” Bass told reporters on Wednesday.

Bass also blamed infighting between police unions for the collapse in negotiations, POLITICO reported on Wednesday.

“It wasn’t like there was a big fight. It wasn’t like there was a big rupture,” Bass said. “But at a certain point, you have to recognize that you’re just spinning your wheels.”

In his statement, Biden signalled that executive actions may be forthcoming. 

“The White House will continue to consult with the civil rights and law enforcement and civil rights communities, as well as victims’ families to define a path forward, including through potential further executive actions I can take to advance our efforts to live up to the American ideal of equal justice under law,” he said.

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