House Judiciary panel to hold police brutality hearing next week

John Bresnahan and Heather Caygle

The House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on police brutality on June 10 as Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democratic leaders push to have a police reform package on the floor by the end of the month.

House Democrats — led by the Congressional Black Caucus — are considering a number of measures to respond to the national outpouring of grief and anger following the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old unarmed black man who died last week after a Minnesota police officer pinned his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes. House Democrats are working with Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kamala Harris of California on the effort, according to Democratic aides.

Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) is planning on a markup of the package by mid-June. The full House will consider the legislation on the floor when it returns to Washington in three weeks.

“The House Judiciary Committee is working very closely with the Congressional Black Caucus to determine the best path forward to address police brutality and racial inequality,” Nadler said in the statement announcing the hearing. “We are reviewing legislative proposals and will consider legislation in the coming weeks.”

The Democratic package — which lawmakers are still drafting — may include a number of measures: developing a federal “use-of-force” standard for police officers; a ban on chokeholds or other aggressive restraint techniques; a national database of police officers fired for misconduct or other offenses; and ending the “qualified immunity doctrine” that protects police officers from lawsuits, among others.

Passage of the Democratic package would mark a major step in the long political struggle over policing reform, and party leaders predict challenges from Republicans and police unions, especially over any attempt to change the qualified immunity doctrine.

“We need to show them that we are going to act. Acting as soon as possible, I believe, is the end of June. It does not mean waiting until July,” said Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), the Congressional Black Caucus chairwoman, during a Tri-Caucus webinar on Wednesday.

“I have confidence that legislation will pass the House. I do not have that same confidence in the Senate,” she said.

Democratic aides said party leaders and the Judiciary Committee are “closely studying” a list of proposals sent to Congress on Monday by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights as a template for the effort.

However, it’s unclear whether House Democrats will formally get behind two other high-profile measures pushed by their own members.

Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, joined by Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Bass, introduced a resolution “Condemning all acts of police brutality, racial profiling, and the use of excessive and militarized force throughout the country.” While the resolution has more than 90 co-sponsors, including Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), some Democratic front-liners in swing districts are concerned that it could cause a political backlash from police groups.

Another proposal by Rep. Frederica Wilson of Florida would create a “commission to “study the societal forces that have disproportionately impacted black males in America.” Pelosi has touted the initiative, but it may end being considered on a different track than the larger Democratic package.

Sarah Ferris contributed to this report.