The Biden administration is standing down on a campaign promise to create a White House-led commission and instead moving forward with its efforts toward passing police reform through legislative channels.
“The Biden-Harris Administration strongly supports the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act and is working with Congress to swiftly enact meaningful police reform that brings profound, urgently needed change,” Domestic Policy Council director Susan Rice said in a statement.
Rice continued, “Based on close, respectful consultation with partners in the civil rights community, the administration made the considered judgment that a police commission, at this time, would not be the most effective way to deliver on our top priority in this area, which is to sign the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act into law.”
Politico was first to report on the decision.
Rice’s statement comes in the wake of another Black man being shot by police in the US. Daunte Wright was killed by police following a traffic stop Sunday. In a news conference on Monday, the police chief in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, said he believes the officer accidentally drew her handgun instead of a Taser in the encounter with Wright.
“As I watched the video and listened to the officer’s commands, it is my belief that the officer had the intention to deploy their taser, but instead shot Mr. Wright with a single bullet,” Chief Tim Gannon said. The officer has been put on administrative leave.
In the days after Floyd’s death last year, then-candidate Joe Biden said that he was committed to “creating a national police oversight commission.” He also called on Congress to enact “real police reform.”
But once in office, the White House’s attention shifted to legislative measures rather than the creation of another commission.
“We are focused on working with members, with advocates on many sides of this debate on how to move things forward, and we feel the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act is the most constructive, effective, impactful way to do that,” press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters last week.
The decision to stand down on a commission was made after “close collaboration” with the civil rights community, including the NAACP’s Legal Defense and Educational Fund and The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, as well as conversations with civil rights leaders and police unions, a source familiar with the administration’s efforts said.
The civil rights organizations, the source said, shared with the administration that they did not want a commission because it would take months to be established and produce a report. There were also concerns it would likely be duplicative of Obama and Trump-era commissions. The administration also received feedback, the source said, that a commission “would run real risk of undermining momentum and passage” for the George Floyd Act.
Biden sees police reform as a “priority,” Psaki told reporters Monday. The President looks forward to “continuing to discuss” the George Floyd Act with members of Congress and “believes that there is a path forward,” declining to provide information on specific engagement with lawmakers.
“He certainly will use the power of his presidency to move it forward,” Psaki said.
There was “very strong consensus” from outside groups that a commission “would not be the most constructive way to deliver on our top priority,” she said.
Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina told CNN on Monday that progress is being made in discussions with Democrats over a bipartisan policing reform bill.
“I think we’re making progress on the parameters in which we concede,” Scott said when asked if progress had been made in the last month of conversations. “I spoke with Karen Bass 10 minutes ago,” he added.
But in a strong response to Wright’s death later Monday, Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a progressive Democrat, said policing cannot be reformed and argued that law enforcement systems in the US are “inherently & intentionally racist.”
“No more policing, incarceration, and militarization. It can’t be reformed,” she wrote in a tweet.
Democratic Rep. Bass’ bill, the George Floyd Act, passed the House of Representatives last month without any Republican support. The California congresswoman told CNN in March that the group is working through “some of the thorny issues” in its discussions over the bill, which faces an uphill climb in the 50-50 Senate.
Supporters of the bill say it would improve law enforcement accountability and work to root out racial bias in policing.
CNN previously reported that the legislation would set up a national registry of police misconduct to stop officers from evading consequences for their actions by moving to another jurisdiction. It would ban racial and religious profiling by law enforcement at the federal, state and local levels, and it would overhaul qualified immunity, a legal doctrine that critics say shields law enforcement from accountability.
According to a fact sheet on the legislation, the measure would allow “individuals to recover damages in civil court when law enforcement officers violate their constitutional rights by eliminating qualified immunity for law enforcement.” The fact sheet also states that the legislation would “save lives by banning chokeholds and no-knock warrants” and would mandate “deadly force be used only as a last resort.”
This story has been updated with additional reporting.