One year after Floyd’s death, winnings on race issues elude Biden
Shortly after the police officer who killed George Floyd was convicted of murder, President Biden called Floyd’s relatives with a promise: Once he could sign a law bearing Floyd’s name for change police across the country, he would send them to Washington for the occasion.
Floyd’s family visited the White House on Tuesday, the anniversary of his death, but there was no signing ceremony for the bill. The bipartisan negotiations on Capitol Hill have yet to achieve a breakthrough, a reminder of the sheer obstacles Biden faces as he grapples with the country’s ingrained racial issues and political polarization.
The visit therefore became an opportunity for legislative lobbying.
“If you can make federal laws to protect the bird that is the bald eagle, then you can make federal laws to protect people of color,” one of Floyd’s brothers, Philonise Floyd, told reporters after meeting with Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. Two other brothers and a nephew also briefly pleaded for Congress to act.
Biden issued a statement vowing to continue pushing for legislation, saying, “We are facing an inflection point.”
“The battle for America’s soul has been a constant push between the American ideal that we are all created equal and the harsh reality that racism has long torn us apart,” the president said. “At our best, the American ideal wins. This must once again.
The Allies also used the anniversary to lobby against racism and the police at the national level. The Floyd family met with House members on Capitol Hill before heading to the White House, then returned to speak with key Senate negotiators on the bill – Democratic Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey and Senator Tim Scott from South Carolina. Both men are black, and Scott is the only black Republican in the Senate.
“If we can’t make progress on this issue in this environment, I wonder when we will ever be able to,” said Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, the highest black member of Congress as Democratic Leader No. 3 in the House.
When Biden declared victory over President Trump after the November election, he said he had won a mandate “to achieve racial justice and to eradicate systemic racism in this country.” He marked a rare moment of progress last week by signing legislation to tackle hate crimes against Asian Americans, which has increased during the pandemic because the coronavirus originated in China.
“Every time we shut up, every time we let hate flourish, you are lying about who we are as a nation,” Biden said at the bill signing ceremony last week. He said the law, which was passed with bipartisan support, was the “first significant break” since taking office at a time of racism for the nation.
But getting the next break is proving difficult. Lawmakers are struggling to agree on legislation for nationwide police changes that could ban strangling, set standards for the use of force, and deny federal funding to local law enforcement agencies. the law that does not comply.
The sticking point remains “qualified immunity,” a legal precedent that generally protects police from civil prosecution for their actions on the job. Republicans have resisted sweeping or modifying this protection.
Biden had set himself a goal on Tuesday to legislate, to mark the first anniversary of the murder of Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who died on a street in Minneapolis, his neck stuck for 9 and a half minutes below Derek’s knee. Chauvin, a white policeman.
Although Congress has missed this deadline, there are signs that a deal could be reached in the near future.
“We’re going to put this bill on President Biden’s desk,” promised Los Angeles Rep. Karen Bass, the leading House Democratic negotiator on the bill, after meeting with Floyd’s family on Capitol Hill Tuesday.
“What’s important is that when it reaches President Biden’s office, this is substantive legislation,” said Bass, former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. “And it’s much more important than a specific date. We will work until the job is done. It will be adopted in a bipartite manner. ”
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Tuesday that Biden remained in close contact with negotiators while “respecting the necessary space” for them to find common ground. “We continue to lobby in the way that we think is the most effective and the most constructive,” she said.
Benjamin Crump, an attorney for Floyd’s family, said Biden didn’t want negotiators to move too quickly just to meet the deadline he set.
“He said he didn’t want to sign a bill that has no substance or meaning,” Crump said. “So he’s going to have the patience to make sure it’s the right bill, not a rushed bill.”
Clyburn, in an interview on Monday, said he remained optimistic and praised Biden for his commitment to tackling racism.
“We have a president who is sensitive to these issues, a president who has a head and a heart,” he said. “We have just completed four years of a heartless presidency.”
Highlighting Biden’s attention, the White House announced Tuesday that the president will travel to Tulsa, Oklahoma on June 1 to mark the 100th anniversary of the city’s racial massacre.
Cornell Belcher, a black pollster who worked to elect Barack Obama, the first black president, said Biden went further than his predecessors to fight racism.
“Understanding someone’s pain and someone’s story is not symbolism. This is, in fact, the key to leadership, ”Belcher said. “What is fundamentally different about this administration than any other administration in my life is that no other administration has so openly talked about systemic racism and put plans in place throughout this administration, throughout the Cabinet. , to, in effect, tackle systemic racism. . “
Belcher also said that welcoming Floyd’s relatives gives Biden a political opportunity to increase pressure on Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, to strike a deal.
“The opportunity for Biden is to say, ‘Look, I had hoped to have you here because I was hoping there would be a signing ceremony for justice and police, but we can’t do it because that Mitch McConnell and the Republicans in the Senate dug, ”Belcher said. “It can and should pivot in the political conversation about why what the vast majority of Americans want to happen doesn’t happen.”
Belcher and other Democratic pollsters say singling out Republicans for blocking Biden’s widely popular platform could keep the party’s main constituencies, including black and younger voters energetic and active as they approach. of the 2022 midterm elections.
“The lack of movement on signature issues could actually help create a higher turnout and more engagement if communicated in the right way,” said John Della Volpe, poll director at the Harvard Policy Institute, which advised Biden’s campaign last year on educating younger voters.
He highlighted Biden’s remarks in Philadelphia after Floyd’s death, when he called on the country to work to eradicate systemic racism. He called it “a generation’s work” and warned it would take longer than a presidential term. If young voters believe the president and his party are engaged on racial justice issues, even though progress is slow, “they will continue to work with the administration to resolve these systemic issues,” Della Volpe said.
But Matt Gorman, a Republican strategist, dismissed the idea that his party would be at an electoral disadvantage next year. “Hoping that voters will vote against [Republicans because of] someone whose name is not on the ballot – Mitch McConnell – that’s just wishful thinking.
Tackling police practices could become a rare issue where bipartisan compromise is possible, Gorman added. “But I don’t think that’s the deciding question for most voters in November 2022.”
Floyd’s sister, nephew and brothers attended the private meeting at the White House, along with his former partner and their seven-year-old daughter, Gianna. Biden often mentioned Gianna and her comment that “my daddy changed the world” through his death.
Psaki said that the “courage and grace” of the family has “truly remained loyal to the president”, and “he is eager to listen to their point of view and hear what they have to say”.
Lindsay M. Chervinsky, a senior researcher at the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University, said outside of policy changes, Biden has harnessed the power of his office to promote a national dialogue around race. And unlike Obama, Biden risks facing fewer political landmines.
“Biden’s whiteness is actually something that makes this conversation possible in a more open way,” she said. “It’s safer to come from him.”