Policing talks collapse in Congress, marking end of negotiations spurred by George Floyd's death

WASHINGTON – A bipartisan group of lawmakers, who had been meeting for months behind closed doors trying to reach an agreement on a bill aimed at holding police more accountable for violence in the line of duty, have emerged without a deal.

The end of negotiations are a setback for President Joe Biden, who had made signing policing legislation a priority of his administration. 

According to a Senate aide familiar with the talks, the negotiations had not made significant improvements in months. 

The aide told USA TODAY that Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., made it clear in a private conversation Wednesday with Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., that he was done with the talks after Scott rejected his final offer. 

The legislation and negotiations were spurred by the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died in Minneapolis police custody last year after a white officer pinned him to the ground under his knee.

Negotiations gained steam in the wake of nationwide protests and after former police officer Derek Chauvin, was convicted of murder in April.

But the talks fizzled over differences in policies. The Democrats at the negotiating table said Republicans kept moving the goalpost on issues, while Scott insisted Democrats kept pushing for "defunding the police" policies.

The two sides could not meet in the middle on a slew of issues, the aide said. 

Booker told reporters Wednesday they weren’t able to agree on transparency within police departments and how to collect data on use of force, codifying raising professional standards within departments — something President Donald Trump signed an executive order for last June — and establishing a federal standard for accountability.

Those differences also included one of the main points of contention throughout the talks — qualified immunity — which shields police officers from civil liability unless they violate “clearly established” law.In general, Democrats seek to remove the protection for officers from lawsuits, while Republicans oppose the move. 

The group negotiating the bill was comprised of some of the most prominent Black lawmakers in Congress: Booker, Scott and Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., who wrote the House legislation bearing George Floyd's name.  

Booker said in a statement Wednesday that "even with law enforcement support and further compromises we offered" during the talks, he felt "there was still too wide a gulf with our negotiating partners and we faced significant obstacles to securing a bipartisan deal."

The Democratic-controlled House passed Bass' bill, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act in March, but Republican support would be needed in the Senate to overcome a potential filibuster in the evenly divided chamber. 

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Bass issued a statement Wednesday saying she felt her and Booker "accepted significant compromises, knowing that they would be a tough sell to our community, but still believing that we would be moving the needle forward on this issue."

"But every time, more was demanded to the point that there would be no progress made in the bill that we were left discussing," she continued. "With our counterparts unwilling to come to a compromise, we have no other option than to explore further avenues to stop police brutality in this country. I will not ask our community to wait another 200 days." 

Both she and Booker called on Biden to explore more executive action on Wednesday.

Originally, he set a goal to sign a bill by anniversary of Floyd’s death on May 25.

But four months later: no deal, and no legislation for him to sign. Without federal legislation, standards for policing is left to states and local governments, meaning the administration has to largely rely on the Department of Justice and their investigations into local municipalities.

Earlier this year, the DOJ announced federal officers are now prohibited from using chokeholds and executing warrants unannounced in some circumstances. 

More:Justice Department prohibits federal officers from using chokeholds, limits no-knock warrants

"The President is disappointed," said White House press secretary Jen Psaki.

She said "in the coming weeks" the administration is going to explore "potential executive actions the President can take to ensure we live up to the American ideal of equality."

Biden said Wednesday he still hopes "to sign into law a comprehensive and meaningful police reform bill that honors the name and memory of George Floyd, because we need legislation to ensure lasting and meaningful change."

"But this moment demands action, and we cannot allow those who stand in the way of progress to prevent us from answering the call," he said.

Since last year, both political parties have sought to provide more transparency in policing and produced separate legislation that would pursue different paths toward that goal. 

Bass' bill, which cleared the House without Republican support, would prohibit profiling based on race and religion and mandate training on profiling, establish a National Police Misconduct Registry and make changes to qualified immunity. 

Scott’s Justice Act, proposed last year after Floyd's death, called for beefed up training that emphasizes de-escalation, increased sharing of disciplinary records between agencies on officers who move from one department to another, grants for agencies to equip officers with body cameras and incentives to end chokeholds.

The aide told USA TODAY the two sides had come to agreements on array issues during negotiations, but they ran into problems when putting pen-to-paper and crafting the actual bill.

The final document, obtained by USA TODAY, included Trump's executive order about accreditation standards, banned the use of no-knock warrants, and curtailed officer's use of chokeholds — issues both sides largely agreed on — among other things.

Scott said in a statement Wednesday he was "deeply disappointed that Democrats have once again squandered a crucial opportunity to implement meaningful reform" and "walked away from the table."

Booker emphasized Wednesday that though they had reached an impasse, he doesn't want either side to stop looking for solutions. 

"We will find other pathways," he said, and continued that "America as a whole wants to have policing that is transparent, that is accountable and has the highest of standards." 

Contributing: Bart Jansen