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Prospect for passing policing legislation in Congress remains low

<i>Drew Angerer/Getty Images</i><br/>Sen. Cory Booker is seen here in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in March of 2022 in Washington
Getty Images
Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Sen. Cory Booker is seen here in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in March of 2022 in Washington

By Jessica Dean and Ted Barrett, CNN

The prospect for new bipartisan negotiations on Capitol Hill for legislation overhauling policing laws remains very low, despite calls from the NAACP, the Congressional Black Caucus and others for congressional action in the wake of the brutal police beating and death of Tyre Nichols.

Previous talks broke down without a deal in September 2021 despite months of negotiations between Sen. Tim Scott, a South Carolina Republican, Sen. Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat and then-Rep. Karen Bass, a California Democrat, now serving as mayor of Los Angeles.

Now, with a divided Congress in place and a presidential election year on the horizon, the chances of getting a deal are slim.

Still, Scott and Booker both reiterated their commitment to reform in the wake of Nichols’ death.

Scott, the only Black Senate Republican, spoke on the Senate floor Monday night about Nichols’ death and called on his colleagues to agree on “simple legislation” regarding police reform.

“I take the issue of policing in America seriously,” the South Carolina Republican said. “I want our body to see it not as an issue of Republicans versus Democrats, but as good people standing in the gap, elected to do a job that we all ran to do. Let’s do our jobs. We can make a difference in this nation.”

The senator “never left the negotiating table and has encouraged his colleagues on the other of side of the aisle to join him in his continued efforts to increase safety in our communities,” a spokesperson for Scott told CNN earlier Monday.

Booker said in a statement he will be renewing his legislative efforts “in the coming days.”

But any effort would need bipartisan support and 60 votes to clear the Senate and would then have to pass a GOP-controlled House, an extremely difficult task and, at this point, an unlikely outcome.

“Although Senate action on policing reform has proven difficult, from the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act to more targeted reforms, I will never stop working to build a broad coalition to enact the changes that will make our nation safer, stronger, and more just,” Booker said in the statement.

Rep. Jim Jordan, the Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, signaled over the weekend he would not support crafting any new laws.

“I don’t know that there is any law that can stop that evil that we saw that is just, I mean, just difficult to watch,” Jordan said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday. “What strikes me is a lack of respect for human life, so I don’t know that any law, any training, any reform is going to change, you know, this man was handcuffed. They continued to beat him.”

Key Senate Republicans have cast doubt that a fresh compromise can be found, even after Nichols’ death.

Asked about the prospects for new legislation as they left a GOP leadership meeting Monday, Senate Republican Whip John Thune cast blame on Democrats for ending those earlier negotiations.

“We’ll see. We made a lot of progress on that front a few years ago with Tim Scott until Democrats torpedoed it,” he said, adding that Republicans would have to assess if Democrats would take a different approach now.

Texas Sen. John Cornyn, a member of the GOP leadership and Senate Judiciary Committee, told CNN that “I don’t know what the pathway is” to finding a deal on policing legislation.

The Texas Republican said that the issue of changing qualified immunity for police officers — to make it easier to sue them in civil court — remains a central sticking point.

“We’ve been talking about (the legislation) for two years and never been able to get to consensus on that,” Cornyn said.

“You got these police officers that use excessive force. They need to be prosecuted. I’m not sure there’s any law you can pass that would prevent what happened,” Cornyn added.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican and ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, said there’s “not really” momentum similar to the immediate aftermath of George Floyd’s death in 2020, though Graham made clear he supports “reasonable police reform” and is willing to talk with Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat.

“I want to rekindle the conversation and if others want to participate, they are welcome as far as I’m concerned,” Durbin said Monday.

Graham also acknowledged any legislation would die if the House GOP does not support it, adding that passing something now is probably less likely than in 2021.

Over the weekend, the South Carolina Republican proposed breaking the impasse that stalled previous talks by allowing victims of excessive force to sue police departments but not individual officers — a position he had supported in past negotiations.

“That’s been floating around for a couple of years, and we’ve never been able to achieve consensus on that,” Cornyn said when asked about Graham’s comments. “I know that (Democratic) Sen. (Sheldon) Whitehouse and others have made that proposal, but it hasn’t really gone anywhere.”

When speaking on the floor Monday evening, Scott suggested that putting into federal law a policy like “duty to intervene” may have “made a difference” in Memphis, where Nichols died. The Memphis Police Department cited a violation of its own duty to intervene policy as one of the reasons for firing the five officers now charged with murder in Nichols’ death.

“We should be able to build a coalition around the common ground of yes, we need more training,” Scott said. “Yes, we need more resources and training on the duty to intervene. Yes, we need more grants and yes, we need the best wearing the badge. We should have simple legislation that we can agree upon.”

This story has been updated with additional developments Monday.

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CNN’s Manu Raju and Jack Forrest contributed to this report.

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