Washington — The Congressional Black Caucus will call on President Biden Thursday to use the strength of the White House and his bully pulpit to rally support for police reform. Members are expected to discuss potential executive action as well as legislative options during a meeting with the president, according to a congressional aide.
“The question we have to ask ourselves as a nation is how many more times does this have to keep happening before we engage in meaningful police reform?” CBC Whip Rep. Marilyn Strickland, of Washington state, told CBS News. “The Congressional Black Caucus has taken a position of wanting to bring the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act back.”
During Tyre Nichols’ funeral Wednesday, Vice President Kamala Harris made an impassioned plea for the legislation, which would limit qualified immunity for officers, prevent racial profiling and restrict the use of excessive force.
“We demand that Congress pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act,” implored Harris, who sponsored the bill as a senator. “Joe Biden will sign it and we should not delay and we will not be denied. It is not negotiable.”
Attorney Benjamin Crump, who represents the Nichols and Floyd families, told mourners that Texas Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee plans to re-introduce the measure after Mr. Biden’s State of the Union address and could include additional provisions.
“She is also going to have a Tyre Nichols ‘duty to intervene’ in that legislation,” Crump declared to applause at the Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church in Memphis.
A spokesperson for Jackson Lee declined to comment or provide additional details on the potential legislation. Several sources confirmed to CBS News that renaming the measure to include Nichols is being discussed but cautioned no decision has been made.
“It may very well be the George Floyd-Tyre Nichols Justice (in Policing) Act to make sure that it’s carrying forward in the minds of people who this current tragedy is fresh with,” said one Democrat who has signed onto the prospective bill as a sponsor.
Nichols’ family is expected to attend the State of the Union on Tuesday. CBS News has also learned that CBC members plan to invite other victims and families impacted by police violence to the address, according to multiple individuals briefed on the plans.
CBC Chairman Steven Horsford, of Nevada, spoke with White House Domestic Policy Council Director Susan Rice on Tuesday ahead of Thursday’s meeting with Mr. Biden. CBC members also held a strategy session this week to discuss their approach.
“We’ve got to talk about what’s really realistic in this environment and I don’t think we’re there yet,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson, of Mississippi. “I’m glad the conversation is happening because there are some common sense things, like why don’t we have a method of identifying law enforcement that transfer from one area to another? There ought to be centralized data.”
Police reform remains a politically fraught issue in both chambers. House Democrats passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act twice in the previous Congress when they held the majority but it faces a tougher challenge with Republicans in control of the House.
“If you’re asking me that this House, where we are no longer in the majority, will do the right thing, I have my doubts,” said Rep. Gregory Meeks, of New York. “That’s why elections are very important. We still can’t give up hope. We’ve got to continue to fight.”
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rep. Pete Aguilar, of California, told CBS News the CBC will continue to take the lead on the issue and expects Democrats will “introduce measures that will further accountability within policing.”
House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, of Louisiana, said the GOP conference could be open to legislation pointing to a previous bill by Rep. Pete Stauber, a Minnesota Republican, that would fund better training for officers, increase the use of body cameras and provide grants to police departments that model best practices.
“I think that kind of legislation is something that we were very interested in moving,” Scalise told reporters. “We are strongly against getting rid of qualified immunity or this whole defunding the police movement.”
Discussions are also being renewed in the Senate after negotiations collapsed between New Jersey Democrat Cory Booker and South Carolina Republican Tim Scott in 2021. Conversations have continued between the two lawmakers this week, according to a congressional aide. Scott said he “never left” the negotiating table.
“I have talked to Senator Booker on several occasions and he is trying to see if we can try to get some bipartisan support,” Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said during a press conference Wednesday.
Many lawmakers hope for a breakthrough but realize the challenges that lie ahead.
“It’s a tough, tough cyclical issue and just as sure as we’re talking there will be another incident,” said Rep. Kwesi Mfume, of Maryland, a former NAACP President. “You know, it’s kind of like with mass shootings. How do we get our hands around something that was almost predictable?”