March On Washington 2020 1

People attend the March on Washington, Friday Aug. 28, 2020, in Washington, on the 57th anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Police reform was done for on Capitol Hill. Then came the latest police shooting of a Black man in Wisconsin.

Now, despite daunting odds in an election year, key lawmakers are quietly working to revive Congress’ efforts to tackle systemic racism and pass a sweeping overhaul of policing nationwide before the election.

Congressional Black Caucus Chair Karen Bass, who helped author the Democrats’ policing reform bill, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, has been leading a bipartisan group of members in a last-ditch attempt to restart negotiations, which collapsed in late June amid partisan recriminations.

Those conversations have included Republicans like Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina and Rep. Pete Stauber of Minnesota — who both helped craft the GOP’s response to the protests sparked earlier this summer — as well as senior Black Democrats like Reps. Hakeem Jeffries of New York and Cedric Richmond of Louisiana, co-chair of Joe Biden’s presidential campaign. Several members of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus in the House have also taken part.

The group had actually been quietly talking for several weeks in hopes of rekindling the failed negotiations. But people involved in the discussions say members felt a renewed sense of purpose after Wisconsin police shot Jacob Blake in the back late last month.

“Election year or not, it’s the right thing to do,” Stauber, who spent more than two decades as a police officer before being elected to Congress, said. “I am not giving up on it, nor are other members giving up on it. It’s too important.”

The renewed push underscores the desire, particularly among Democrats, to act in some way as the nation reels over the continued police violence against Black Americans. The group has met weekly on Zoom and in person when Congress returned in July in a bid to craft legislation that could make it out of both chambers and actually be signed into law by President Donald Trump, according to several of the participants.

The group doesn’t yet have a specific plan on how to eventually introduce legislation, but several participants said they hope to have something that could win support from both parties before the end of the year.

Still, multiple lawmakers and aides have privately expressed skepticism that the talks would go anywhere, given how polarized the issue has become and the fact that Congress will be in session only two more weeks before the presidential election.

“I’m very doubtful. I pray the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act becomes federal law before the election but I just don’t see it happening,” Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL) said, but added that he hopes the House will take up other bills on policing, such as his own legislation to create federal standards on officer licensing.

The doubts about passing comprehensive legislation have fueled a parallel effort by Democrats to tuck some provisions from the House policing bill into must-pass legislation moving on Capitol Hill, including a stopgap measure to keep the government funded and the annual defense authorization. Such a move would amount to a dare to Trump and the GOP to accept some policy changes or face a potential shutdown.

For example, House Democrats are hoping to include a provision in the final defense bill that would limit transfers of military equipment to local police departments. Other Democrats have suggested making certain programs contingent on additional police training on use of force and diversity.

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus discussed the idea further during a private call Sept. 2, with some admitting that a “breakthrough” moment on the broader bill may not be possible before the election.

The House passed its sweeping reform bill — named for George Floyd, who was killed by Minneapolis police in May — more than two months ago. The Senate GOP crafted its own, narrower version, though it failed to win over Democrats, who blocked it on the floor.

The GOP’s bill was largely written by Scott, the lone Black Republican in the chamber who has been vocal about the racism he’s faced as a Black man growing up in South Carolina. But most Democrats scoffed at the Senate’s bill, which Minority Leader Chuck Schumer rebuked as “deeply, fundamentally, and irrevocably flawed.”

The two measures have some common ground, with demands for greater transparency among police departments, as well as more training for officers.

But the Democrats’ bill would go much further in forcing police departments to overhaul their practices. It would make it easier to prosecute officers for misconduct and allow victims of brutality to file lawsuits. It would also ban chokeholds and no-knock warrants, a direct response to the police killings of Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville, KY, in March.

- Heather Caygle & Sarah Ferris, Politico.com

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