By Gerren Keith Gaynor, TheGrio
President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris met with members of the Congressional Black Caucus late Thursday afternoon at the White House to discuss a path forward to passing federal police reform.
The meeting was scheduled at the request of CBC chair, U.S. Rep. Steven Horsford, in response to the deadly police beating of Tyre Nichols in Memphis, Tennessee. It also came a day after Vice President Harris traveled to Memphis to attend Nichols’ funeral service, where she delivered a rousing speech calling for Congress to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.
“The death of Tyre Nichols is yet another example of why we need action,” said Horsford inside the Oval Office before the private meeting. He told President Biden, “We need your help on legislative action to … make public safety the priority.”
Congressional Black Caucus members who attended Thursday’s meeting included Horsford and U.S. Reps. James Clyburn of South Carolina, Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas, Joe Neguse of Colorado, and U.S. Senators Cory Booker of New Jersey and Raphael Warnock of Georgia. The leaders convened to discuss pathways forward with the White House to reach a bipartisan agreement on police reform.
After the lengthy White House meeting, the CBC members walked outside of the West Wing to talk to the press. Chairman Horsford said the meeting between lawmakers, President Biden and Vice President Harris “covered a number of important issues on our path forward” to combat bad policing.
“We have agreement on how we will continue to work forward, both from a legislative standpoint, as well as executive and community-based solutions,” added Horsford.
The legislators did not share many details about specific policy measures discussed during the meeting; however, the White House, in a readout, said that the discussion touched on reforms implemented by Biden through executive orders. Horsford told reporters, “We will have more details about that legislative package as we work with our colleagues on both sides of the aisle.”
The CBC, one of the largest caucuses in Congress, is seen as key to the White House’s quest to pass the Floyd bill. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on Thursday said Congressional Black Caucus members served as “critical partners” in passing the Floyd legislation in the House during the last session of Congress. The legislation ultimately collapsed in the Senate when Democratic and Republican senators failed to agree on certain provisions of the bill.
However, in the new 118th Congress, the White House and Democrats face greater hurdles in enacting police reform now that Republicans hold the majority in the U.S. House. That means Democrats would have to convince even more Republicans in Congress to work with them on the issue. So far, Republicans appear resistant to passing police reform.
As expressed by the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), Republicans have made the argument that no law or provision in the George Floyd bill would have prevented the Memphis police beating of Tyre Nichols. When asked about the position of some GOP lawmakers, Jean-Pierre told theGrio the White House believes the Floyd law would’ve enacted wide-ranging reforms to deal with an issue that disproportionately impacts Black and brown communities.
The Biden spokesperson explained: “It would have strengthened accountability measures, which we think is important for federal officers at the state and local level … it would give the Department of Justice expanded powers to go after departments that have patterns or practices of excessive force, bias policing and other unconstitutional practices.”
She added, “It would require the Department of Justice to establish accreditation standards for law enforcement agencies. It would require officers to complete training on racial profiling, implicit bias, and the duty to intervene when another officer uses excessive force.”
Jean-Pierre described the Floyd bill as a “first step” in addressing the issue of police bias and misconduct.
The legislative journey to a bipartisan agreement will be an uphill battle, given the lack of commitment from Republicans. President Biden is expected to take his appeal for Congress to pass the George Floyd Act to primetime airwaves next week in his State of the Union address on Feb. 7. Tyre Nichols’ mother and stepfather will be in attendance, at the invitation of Congressman Horsford.
“The Congressional Black Caucus is focused on meaningful substantive reforms,” said Horsford after Thursday’s White House meeting. “We’re not drawing lines in the sand because we know that Tyre Nichols’ life is worth fighting for and so many others.”
Gerren Keith Gaynor is the Managing Editor of Politics and White House Correspondent at theGrio. He is based in Washington, D.C.