Scott said he was relieved by the guilty verdict against Chauvin, but there was still work to be done. His party and the Democrats conceded one point on Tuesday night: the long-standing standoff on police reform has become untenable for both sides.
“It’s pretty horrible having the eyes of the nation on a courtroom. It’s up to us to try to prevent this from happening as often as this, ”said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.).
Senator Mitt Romney (R-Utah) put it even more bluntly: “The justice system worked. But a man died. It is therefore a very high price to pay. And avoiding more circumstances like this, more events like this, remains a top priority. “
Romney suggested a return to Scott’s approach of encouraging an end to police use of strangles, made lynching a felony and increased disclosure requirements for use of force. Democrats found this bill relatively toothless and pushed for a stricter approach that banned strangling and smooth raids.
Additionally, senators failed to reach consensus on whether to end qualified immunity, a legal doctrine that protects police officers from prosecution. Eliminating qualified immunity is a red line for many Republicans.
Despite the determination of key lawmakers on both sides to move forward, it’s unclear whether Congress can add another divisive issue to its plate. Representative Karen Bass (D-Calif.), Former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus and senior House author of police reform legislation named after Floyd, said reforming was “extremely important” qualified immunity in any bill passed in Congress.
“If you don’t like qualified immunity, tell me what we can do to hold the police officers accountable,” she said, arguing that Chauvin had acted as if he knew he wouldn’t. continued or continued. “They must feel that there are consequences to what they are doing.”
Bass said she spoke with Scott and Sen. Cory Booker (DN.J.) about police reform and hoped to have a bill on Biden’s desk by the end of May, but that there were “no formal negotiations yet”.
His schedule is incredibly optimistic. Congress is set for a break for a week in May, and it took the Senate a full week to negotiate a relatively modest hate crimes bill. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer will follow suit with water legislation and a US-Chinese bill – and his chamber has yet to address gun legislation following a recent surge mass shootings.
Several Republicans were skeptical of their colleagues’ insistence on legislative reform of police conduct. Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) Warned lawmakers not to “do something [just] to do it. Senator Mike Braun (R-Ind.), One of the few in the GOP open to touching qualified immunity, was not particularly optimistic about the way forward.
“As difficult as it is to do anything here, I think it will rekindle further discussion,” Braun said of Chauvin’s conviction. “If it’s okay somewhere?” I am not sure.”
While the Senate can move forward on a compromise, progressives are likely to back down. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (DN.Y.) said during a live Instagram broadcast after the verdict that the police legislation passed by the House was “important” but “not good enough”. The failure to craft a better bill lies with Democratic leaders as well as the GOP, Ocasio-Cortez said.
Both left and right have used police reform to try to score political points, with conservatives saying they “support the blue” and progressives calling for the police to be struck off. Former President Donald Trump literally used the issue as a weapon last year as his administration forcibly eliminated a mob of protesters from outside the White House, and he urged officials to ‘dominate’ protesters .
Even before the verdict was announced, the Chauvin trial itself sparked political divisions and sparked inflammatory rhetoric. House Republicans tried to censor Rep. Maxine Waters (D-California) for telling protesters to “get more confrontational” and “stay in the streets” if Chauvin is acquitted. Meanwhile, several Republicans criticized Biden for suggesting there was “overwhelming” evidence of a guilty verdict.
The debate over police reform is just the latest emblem of congressional dysfunction. Senate Republicans offered their own Scott-led proposal, but Democrats blocked the measure to the ground. Since then, there has been little tangible movement toward a strategy that could overcome a filibuster, although Schumer has promised to put the House Police Bill on the floor.
Police reform adds to a litany of other issues the 50-50 Senate is working to address amid real-world pressures across the country like gun control and immigration. But the sustained attention police have received since Floyd’s murder, especially from the Democratic base, means it can be difficult for the Senate to avoid getting seized of the matter at some point.
“The audience paid a lot of attention to this. And I don’t know how the Republicans are going to think about it… but there is more impetus on our part, ”argued Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). “People have seen so much about it and seen what good cops do and what bad cops do knowing that most are good cops.”
The protests that dominated Washington, DC last summer have finally faded, even as cities like Minneapolis and Portland, Oregon continue to grapple with unrest over police brutality against African Americans.
Senator Tina Smith (D-Minn.) Said the protests made everyone in the country see that the nation has different standards of justice for whites and people of color. And if ever there was a “tipping point” to do something, she says, it’s now.
“The reason so many people took to the streets is that they could see that [double standard] and they demanded changes, ”she said. “So the question here is: will these demands be heard here on Capitol Hill?” And I have to be optimistic that they will be. “
Melanie Zanona contributed.