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Pelosi Asks Black Caucus To Come Up With Police Reforms Following Protests

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has asked the Congressional Black Caucus to help select legislative proposals to address policing that can pass the House with enough votes without GOP support.
Manuel Balce Ceneta
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has asked the Congressional Black Caucus to help select legislative proposals to address policing that can pass the House with enough votes without GOP support.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has asked the Congressional Black Caucus to lead the process of drafting a legislative response to the protests that have swept the country following the death of George Floyd.

House Democrats are sorting through dozens of proposals to address policing issues, including excessive use of force and racial profiling.

"It is time, it is time for us to address the concerns that were being expressed by the protesters," Pelosi said at a press event at the Capitol Tuesday. "This is not a single incident. We know this is a pattern of behavior. and we also know the history that brings us to this sad place."

Democrats hope to calm the increasingly incendiary atmosphere in the country over Floyd's death by finding ways to address the underlying systemic problems enraging protesters in the streets. There is some degree of bipartisan support for reviewing the tactics that led to Floyd's death.

Many Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., have acknowledged what McConnell called "egregious wrongs." McConnell said Tuesday there could be a role for Congress to play here.

"It's certainly something that we need to take a look at," McConnell told reporters. "We'll be talking to our colleagues about what, if anything, is appropriate for us to do in the wake of what's going on."

But the discussion has often become entwined with public outcry over President Trump's handling of the unrest and his threat to use military force to quell protests.

Pelosi said Floyd's killing "happened in broad daylight, it happened for all the world to see. A knee to the neck, not only by the perpetrator of that murder but by three officers observing it."

Congress has often struggled to address policing issues. Many decisions about policing tactics, training and strategies are determined at the state and local level. Pelosi is asking members of the Congressional Black Caucus to sort through the ideas and find legislation that can pass the House where Democrats have enough votes for approval without GOP support.

Among the options is a 2015 bill introduced by House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., that would outlaw the use of chokeholds in policing. Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has endorsed that idea.

Democrats are hoping to reach an agreement quickly. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters he could call lawmakers back to Washington to vote before their scheduled return on June 30.

Hoyer said that he has been in contact with the Congressional Black Caucus over the last four days and that it is considering more than 50 pieces of legislation, including a proposal to end qualified immunity for police officers, or their legal protection shield for certain actions.

Democrats also plan to try to force the Senate to go on record condemning Trump for "ordering federal officers to use gas and rubber bullets against Americans who were peaceably protesting" Monday outside the White House. The resolution, proposed by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., would also affirm the rights of free assembly and protest while condemning looting.

The measure is unlikely to pass as it requires unanimous consent to be approved.

Republicans, including McConnell, have largely focused on calling for protests to remain peaceful without directly discussing the conflict at the White House.

"It is well past time that we also unite on the side of peace in our streets and peace in our communities," McConnell said in a speech on the Senate floor. "We need to unite against these violent rioters who seek only to aggrandize themselves and further damage a nation that needs healing."

Most Senate Republicans declined Tuesday to discuss the tear gas incident at the White House when reporters on Capitol Hill asked them about it. Some avoided the question; others said they didn't see the incident. Those who did speak to reporters mostly focused on condemning violent protests.

Graham, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has announced a June 16 hearing on police use of force.

"We intend to shine a bright light on the problems associated with Mr. Floyd's death, with the goal of finding a better way forward for our nation," Graham said in a statement Friday.

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Claudia Grisales is a congressional reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.
Kelsey Snell is a Congressional correspondent for NPR. She has covered Congress since 2010 for outlets including The Washington Post, Politico and National Journal. She has covered elections and Congress with a reporting specialty in budget, tax and economic policy. She has a graduate degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. and an undergraduate degree in political science from DePaul University in Chicago.