WASHINGTON – Less than a month after George Floyd’s murder, President Donald Trump sat in the rose garden and signed an executive order requiring police departments to establish accreditation and accountability standards to receive federal funding .
Senator Tim Scott, RS.C., attended and then praised the ordinance saying it “would bring real solutions so that fewer families are sitting in the White House talking about loved ones. lost “. A little over a year later, Scott, the Republican chief negotiator to turn police reform into law, rejected a Democratic offer that would codify that same executive order.
Democrats were mystified and this led them to believe Scott had no interest in reaching a deal – the last straw for Sen. Cory Booker, DN.J., who made the decision this week to drop out the negotiations.
This was the final death knell for an effort to push through a sweeping bipartisan police reform that was once heralded with great hope but seemed to have missed the moment, crushed by political pressures that prevented both sides from finding a solution. middle ground.
“When the other party didn’t even codify Donald Trump’s executive order because it went too far, they clearly weren’t serious about creating meaningful reform,” said Senator Brian Schatz , D-Hawaii, to NBC News.
A spokeswoman for Scott said the language of Trump’s presidential executive order amounted to funding the police. “The disqualification of police departments from (federal) grants cuts off a crucial funding stream,” Caroline Anderegg, Scott’s publicist, said in a text message.
“Defund the police” has become a politically charged phrase.
It started as the mantra of some protesters for police reform in the wake of Floyd’s murder. But it quickly turned into a rallying cry from Republicans, who argued Democrats wanted to make America less safe by depriving law enforcement agencies of resources to fight crime.
Scott, in a statement after negotiations ended Thursday, twice accused Booker and the Democrats of wanting to fund the police. The various Democratic proposals have provided police departments with hundreds of millions of dollars to tackle mental health, build misconduct databases and increase training.
But the negotiations met with political and cultural headwinds that doomed the chances of success.
“I thought they were heading to a place where Congress would have at least set new standards, but there may be less pressure on this issue than six months ago when these talks were at theirs. highest boiling point, “said Senator Roy. Blunt, R-Mo., Said
Police accountability and transparency measures gained national momentum after Floyd’s murder. But a year later, public opinion began to change as summer crime spikes in cities made the policy of police reform more complicated.
The end of the talks was devastating for Floyd’s family. “We were just extremely disappointed at this point because, as you know, since March we have been optimistic,” Shareeduh Tate, cousin of George Floyd and chairman of the George Floyd Foundation, told MSNBC. “We were very patient because everyone watched this process unfold.”
This wave of crime and change in sentiment came at a critical point in negotiations when Booker signed a critical agreement with the Fraternal Order of Police in June on the issue of qualified immunity. Although he said he would support what the brotherly order agreed to, Scott did not accept it. Scott changed the goalposts, saying the sheriffs associations should support him as well. But sheriff groups have long been ignored in criminal justice discussions because of their fierce opposition. They even rejected the Trump-era First Step Act, which Scott helped negotiate.
The increase in crime “hurt Democrats because it was used even though it had absolutely nothing to do with police reform,” Representative Karen Bass, D-Calif, told NBC News. , member of the negotiations. “It was used as a talking point and it was used during the campaigns.”
Scott is running for re-election in 2022. While he is likely to easily win his race as South Carolina’s most popular elected official, bigger issues are at stake. Scott’s positions could now have broader implications for the Republican Party. In the equally divided Senate, Republicans believe a tough stance against crime could help them take control of the chamber.
Several House Democrats who lost or came close to losing re-election in swing districts said the “defund” message had hurt them politically. And in the Virginia gubernatorial race between Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Younkin, which polls show nearly tied, crime has been a central issue.
Since the critical moment in June, negotiations have become more difficult and sporadic. Things that had been agreed upon were put back on the table and opened for discussion, including no-go warrants. At the end of July, the only thing agreed between the two senators was to ban strangulation.
Realizing that comprehensive police reform was unrealistic, in early August Scott and Booker publicly launched a scaled-down “skinny” version. No-coup warrants and qualified immunity were no longer at the negotiating table.
Booker presented the lite version to Scott, which included Trump’s presidential executive order on accreditation, money for mental health, limiting the transfer of military equipment to law enforcement, and banning strangulations. Scott said no.
The political will was gone. Momentum too.
“I think we should have been able to do something when the momentum was there – last year,” Bass said.
Last year, Republicans controlled the Senate and the White House. Democrats rejected Scott’s police reform bill, which consisted primarily of studies and recommendations to change police behavior. Democrats bet they would take over the White House and Senate and have a stronger bill. They only achieved one of these goals.