Those conversations have included Republicans like Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina and Rep. Pete Stauber of Minnesota — who both helped craft the GOP’s response to the protests sparked earlier this summer — as well as senior Black Democrats like Reps. Hakeem Jeffries of New York and Cedric Richmond of Louisiana, co-chair of Joe Biden’s presidential campaign. Several members of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus in the House have also taken part.
The group had actually been quietly talking for several weeks in hopes of rekindling the failed negotiations. But people involved in the discussions say members felt a renewed sense of purpose after Wisconsin police shot Jacob Blake seven times in the back late last month.
“Election year or not, it’s the right thing to do,” Stauber, who spent more than two decades as a police officer before being elected to Congress, said in an interview. “I am not giving up on it, nor are other members giving up on it. It’s too important.”
Bass first revealed the efforts to a broader audience on a private call with House Democrats on Monday, days after Blake’s shooting. Bass’ spokesperson did not respond to multiple requests for an interview this week.
The renewed push underscores the desire, particularly among Democrats, to act in some way as the nation reels over the continued police violence against Black Americans. The group has met weekly on Zoom and in person when Congress returned in July in a bid to craft legislation that could make it out of both chambers and actually be signed into law by President Donald Trump, according to several of the participants.
The group doesn’t yet have a specific plan on how to eventually introduce legislation, but several participants said they hope to have something that could win support from both parties before the end of the year.
Still, multiple lawmakers and aides have privately expressed skepticism that the talks would go anywhere, given how polarized the issue has become and the fact that Congress will be in session only two more weeks before the presidential election.
“I’m very doubtful. I pray the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act becomes federal law before the election but I just don’t see it happening,” Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) said in an interview, but added that he hopes the House will take up other bills on policing, such as his own legislation to create federal standards on officer licensing.
The doubts about passing comprehensive legislation have fueled a parallel effort by Democrats to tuck some provisions from the House policing bill into must-pass legislation moving on Capitol Hill, including a stopgap measure to keep the government funded and the annual defense authorization. Such a move would amount to a dare to Trump and the GOP to accept some policy changes or face a potential shutdown.
For example, House Democrats are hoping to include a provision in the final defense bill that would limit transfers of military equipment to local police departments. Other Democrats have suggested making certain programs contingent on additional police training on use of force and diversity.
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus discussed the idea further during a private call Wednesday, with some admitting that a “breakthrough” moment on the broader bill may not be possible before the election.
The move to jump-start negotiations on policing legislation, already facing long odds with the two parties two deeply divided, is made even more difficult with the November election just weeks away. Trump has repeatedly used the issue as a cudgel to rile up his hard-line base — siding with law enforcement over Black Lives Matter protesters, even as a string of police shootings of unarmed Black men and women this year has fueled nationwide demands for change.
The latest shooting, in which the 29-year-old Blake was shot in the back seven times in front of his children in Kenosha, Wis., has set off another wave of protests in cities across the country.
Trump has seized on the nationwide unrest and sought to make “law and order” the paramount issue in the two months leading up to the presidential campaign, even more so than efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic that has left more than 185,000 Americans dead.
The president and his campaign have sought to paint racial justice activists as violent mobs that would only grow more unruly under a potential Biden administration. But Trump has defended 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, an alleged Trump supporter, who is accused of killing two protesters in Kenosha and is now charged with six criminal counts, including first-degree murder.
The House passed its sweeping reform bill — named for George Floyd, who was killed by Minneapolis police in May — more than two months ago. The Senate GOP crafted its own, narrower version, though it failed to win over Democrats, who blocked it on the floor.
The GOP’s bill was largely written by Scott, the lone Black Republican in the chamber who has been vocal about the racism he’s faced as a Black man growing up in South Carolina. But most Democrats scoffed at the Senate’s bill, which Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) rebuked as “deeply, fundamentally, and irrevocably flawed.”
The two measures have some common ground, with demands for greater transparency among police departments, as well as more training for officers.
But the Democrats’ bill would go much further in forcing police departments to overhaul their practices. It would make it easier to prosecute officers for misconduct and allow victims of brutality to file lawsuits. It would also ban chokeholds and no-knock warrants, a direct response to the police killings of Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Ky., in March.
Many of the proposals — including a chokehold ban or amending qualified immunity for officers — have support from a majority of Americans.
But there is a broad divide among the parties about the precise scope of the problem. Nearly 90 percent of Democrats said “major changes” are needed in U.S. police departments, while 14 percent of Republicans said the same, according to a Gallup poll in July.
Laura Barrón-López contributed to this report.