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White House stays out of police protection debate as key Democrat says he's willing to compromise

·National Politics Reporter
·3 min read
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WASHINGTON — The White House has declined to clarify its stance on abolishing qualified immunity, a provision holding up negotiations of the administration’s preferred police reform bill, which is struggling to gain traction in the Senate.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday that the Biden administration would not “take a stance in the middle of negotiations.”

Over the weekend, House Majority Whip James Clyburn, a close ally to President Biden and a leading advocate for police reform, told CNN he was willing to support a bill that did not include slashing qualified immunity, a legal principle that shields individual law enforcement officers from civil proceedings. Progressive police reform advocates, including many Democrats, have aggressively pushed for legislation that scraps qualified immunity.

Jen Psaki
White House press secretary Jen Psaki. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images)

But Republicans see the provision as a nonstarter. Clyburn acknowledged that without concessions, neither the White House nor congressional Democrats are likely to see even slim bipartisan support for the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, the police reform bill moving through Congress.

“If you don’t get qualified immunity now, then we’ll come back and try to get it later, but I don’t want to see us throw out a good bill because we can’t get a perfect bill,” said Clyburn, adding that he wants to “see good legislation. And I know that, sometimes, you have to compromise.”

But the White House has yet to offer similar concessions, leaving Democrats on the Hill without formal public guidance. During a Monday afternoon press briefing, Psaki avoided giving a firm endorsement of a compromise package.

“The president is eager to see what the outcome of negotiations are, and he certainly trusts the leadership of Congresswoman [Karen] Bass and Sen. [Cory] Booker, but his focus is on his hope that he can sign the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act into law on May 25, and we’re not going to get ahead of the negotiations,” said Psaki.

Biden previously promised to sign a police reform law on the anniversary of the murder of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man who was killed in police custody. Derek Chauvin, the officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck until he died, was recently found guilty of murder.

Joe Biden with Kamala Harris
President Biden comments on the Derek Chauvin trial on April 20 as Vice President Kamala Harris looks on. (Doug Mills/New York Times via Getty Images)

Yet Biden is already finding it difficult to deliver on his promise. His reputation for advancing police reform already took a hit after he doubled back on a promise made soon after his inauguration to establish a police oversight task force in his first 100 days. The White House announced in April that it was putting that commission on hold, perhaps indefinitely. And with just weeks left before Biden’s May 25 goal, Republicans in the Senate have yet to finalize a joint proposal with Democrats, with many citing qualified immunity as a stumbling block.

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