Biden Faces Pressure on Policing 02/02 06:06
WASHINGTON (AP) -- When Vice President Kamala Harris was called to the
pulpit at the funeral for Tyre Nichols, she said the White House would settle
for nothing less than ambitious federal legislation to crack down on police
"We should not delay. And we will not be denied," Harris said to applause in
Memphis, Tennessee. "It is non-negotiable."
Back in Washington, however, progress appears difficult, if not unlikely.
Bipartisan efforts to reach an agreement on policing legislation stalled more
than a year ago, and President Joe Biden ended up instead signing an executive
order named for George Floyd, whose murder at the hands of Minneapolis police
set off nationwide protests nearly three years ago.
Now, with a new killing in the headlines, Biden and Harris will meet with
members of the Congressional Black Caucus on Thursday to explore whether it's
possible to get legislation back on track.
"I am working to make sure that we have a clear plan," said Rep. Steven
Horsford, D-Nev., who chairs the caucus.
The White House is facing fresh pressure to advance the issue, and even some
political allies are frustrated with what they view as excess caution from
"I think the president is missing the opportunity to be a historic president
when it comes to the social issues that continue to plague our country," said
Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y. "That's what we need."
Bowman described Biden as "a champion of the status quo in many ways," and
he said Biden needs to be "a champion of a new vision for America."
The solution, Bowman said, is not "thoughts and prayers, come to the State
of the Union after your kid gets killed," a reference to Nichols' mother and
stepfather being invited to attend next week's speech.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Wednesday
that "we understand there's a lot more work to do." She blamed Republicans for
blocking progress in Congress.
"The way that we're going to deal with this issue is to have federal
legislation," Jean-Pierre said. "That's how we're going to move forward."
Jim Pasco, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police, said he was
in touch with the White House last Friday, when video of Nichols' beating
became public, about whether the situation could be a catalyst to "get things
His organization, the nation's largest police union, had participated in
previous attempts to reach a bipartisan deal, and Pasco said that "we welcome
any constructive effort to help us do our jobs better." The union's president,
Patrick Yoes, has already condemned Nichols' killing and said that "our entire
country needs to see justice done -- swiftly and surely."
However, Pasco said, "we're kind of in a wait-and-see mode right now," with
Republicans recently regaining control of the House, making legislative
progress much harder.
"You've got to look at the political realities here," he said.
The issue involves critical political questions for the White House. Biden
has carefully balanced his approach, embracing calls for overhauling how police
do their jobs while also emphasizing his longtime support for law enforcement
and rejecting proposals to cut funding. He was elected with strong support from
Black voters, and he's preparing a reelection campaign that could launch in the
As a former prosecutor and the first person of color to serve as vice
president, Harris has faced particular scrutiny for her approach to police
issues. While attending the funeral on Wednesday, she condemned Nichols' death,
saying that "this violent act was not in pursuit of public safety."
"When we talk about public safety, let us understand what it means in its
truest form," Harris said in her short speech. "Tyre Nichols should have been
Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League, said he was encouraged
that Harris attended the funeral.
"This is what people expect, that you'll be there for them at a time of
need," he said.
Now, Morial said, "we need a substantive response, not a political response
where they say, 'Let's just pass something.'"
Last year's executive order was the product of negotiations among civil
rights leaders and law enforcement organizations, and it mostly focuses on
federal agencies by requiring them to review and revise policies on the use of
The administration is also encouraging local departments to participate in a
database to track police misconduct.
But deeper modifications, such as making it easier to sue officers for
misconduct allegations, have remained elusive.
"We haven't gotten even a fraction of the changes that are necessary," said
Rashad Robinson, president of the activist group Color of Change. "We haven't
gotten the kind of structural change to policing that is required."
Robinson said he was encouraged by the swift arrests of the Memphis police
officers responsible for beating Nichols. However, he said that shouldn't be
the end of the matter.
"Are those in power willing to do something to make sure it doesn't happen
again?" he said. "Or do they want to make sure only individuals are punished?"