When a Minnesota jury convicted Derek Chauvin of George Floyd's murder in April, President Joe Biden described the guilty verdicts as "a step forward," though he added that the United States still has work to do to address issues of systemic racism, including in law enforcement. The Democrat said convictions like these are "much too rare" and "not enough."
There was no great mystery as to what Biden was referring to. House Democrats approved the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act in March, which covered quite a bit of policy ground: The measure was designed to ban neck restraints, prohibit "no knock" warrants in drug cases at the federal level, reform qualified immunity, and end discriminatory profiling, among many other priorities.
It, of course, landed in the Senate with a thud. As everyone involved in the process understood, there was simply no way the progressive legislation would be able to overcome a Republican filibuster. But what if some other version of the bill could? What if there were bipartisan negotiations over policing reforms that might actually pass?
A group of congressional Democrats — led by New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and California Rep. Karen Bass — began talks with Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, and for five months, it appeared a breakthrough was at least possible. Yesterday, as The Wall Street Journal reported, the negotiations collapsed.
Bipartisan talks aimed at overhauling police tactics and accountability have ended with no agreement, the top Democratic negotiator said, with lawmakers unable to reach a compromise following nationwide protests sparked by the killings of Black Americans by law-enforcement officers. Sen. Cory Booker (D., N.J.) said Wednesday that he called Sen. Tim Scott (R., S.C.) to tell him the Democrats were done negotiating after Mr. Scott didn't accept their final offer.
Let no one say Booker and Bass didn't go out of their way with good-faith efforts. For five months, the Democratic negotiators expressed optimism that if they just kept trying, their GOP counterparts would eventually budge. As recently as early June, Capitol Hill sources confirmed that some of the key sticking points had been "mostly" resolved, and Scott confirmed to reporters that the gap between the parties was closing.
Facing a self-imposed deadline, lawmakers directly involved in the talks pressed on, determined to succeed. In late June, Scott issued a written statement that read in part, "After months of working in good faith, we have reached an agreement on a framework addressing the major issues for bipartisan police reform."
But when it came to crossing the finish line, the more Democrats made concessions, the less it mattered to Republicans. This week, Booker and Bass offered what NBC News described as a "drastically scaled-back proposal," which the GOP nevertheless rejected.
The proposal included the minimum that Democrats were willing to accept and left out controversial provisions like qualified immunity, the criminalization of excessive use of force and no-knock warrants. The proposal included provisions to address mental health for police officers, a database of police misconduct and terminations, the militarization of police departments and would also make an executive order former Trump signed into law.
With this in mind, the White House issued a statement yesterday, complaining, "Regrettably, Senate Republicans rejected enacting modest reforms, which even the previous president had supported, while refusing to take action on key issues that many in law enforcement were willing to address."
Booker added that he intends to "explore all other options to achieve meaningful and common sense policing reform," but so long as the Senate's filibuster rules remain intact, progress in this Congress appears impossible.
As a policy matter, the failure of the talks is an important setback: There's real work that needs to be done on this issue, and GOP obstinacy means the work will not happen, at least at the federal level.
But as a political matter, the collapse of the negotiations also offers a timely reminder of a political dynamic some refuse to see. There's a school of thought, generally espoused by centrist and conservative Democrats, that if the governing party makes a good-faith effort at striking compromises, hears Republicans out, engages in lengthy negotiations, and accepts meaningful concessions in the interest of making a deal, GOP lawmakers are willing to work in constructive way.
As yesterday's announcement makes clear, those assumptions have been proven wrong — again.