Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina offered a blunt assessment on Thursday of where things stand in the bipartisan effort to craft a compromise to overhaul policing in the US, telling CNN, “I think we have a long way to go.”
Calling progress “incremental,” Scott said the three key negotiators – himself, Democratic Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Democratic Rep. Karen Bass of California – are “not of the same mind on important issues, so we are having to work through those issues and hopefully we get through those issues.”
“We are making real progress, but it is slow,” he added.
“There are a lot of moving parts that we have to still work through,” Scott said. “I think we’ve been as optimistic as we possibly can be on the timeline, and that optimism is not always going to be met with the end of the month or whatever artificial deadline that’s been imposed.”
There has been pressure from President Joe Biden and advocates of changing the nation’s policing laws to have a deal by the one-year anniversary of George Floyd’s death on May 25. Scott, Booker and Bass met again Thursday as they continue to work toward a bipartisan solution.
“The right deal is better than the rushed deal,” Scott added.
“I am hoping that we do get there by May 25,” Bass told CNN on Thursday. “But what is more important to me than not is that we have a substantive piece of legislation that is transformative for policing. So if that takes a few more days past May 25, I’m fine with that. What I don’t believe, though, is that we are engaged in something that is going to take all year.”
“We want to get it done and get it done right,” Booker said, adding he believes the group is making “a lot of progress.”
So-called qualified immunity and the standard for criminally prosecuting police officers, known as Section 242, remain key sticking points.
Scott has floated a compromise on qualified immunity, placing the responsibility on police departments as opposed to individual officers, but Bass maintained on Thursday that officers and departments both must be held accountable.
“Qualified immunity is essential that it be a part of it, and it is essential to me and to many other people in the House that officers be held accountable, because the whole point is not just to be punitive toward officers,” Bass said. “We believe holding officers accountable, the ability to sue officers and departments, the ability to prosecute officers are essential to be a part of the bill. Now let’s see how our talks move forward.”
On Section 242, Democrats want to change the language in the law to make it easier to criminally prosecute police officers. Scott has repeatedly said the issues is off the table for him and he will not agree to any changes.
“If you demonize and/or eliminate protections that they (police) have, chances are very low that you’re going to have officers responding, so community safety goes down,” Scott said. “Case in point: Portland, Cleveland, New York, Atlanta, Chicago. So we have to do something that strikes the right balance. I think we can do it if we want to. I’m going to continue until we do. If someone leaves the table, that won’t be on me.”
“I’ll create a bill with or without help,” Scott said. “It’s better if we do it all together.”
Democratic lawmakers have sought advice from the Department of Justice on prosecuting police misconduct. Scott, who opposes changing the standard for prosecuting police, has not been a part of that effort.
Booker would not elaborate much on how guidance might affect the discussions, saying it’s “great input.”
“I’m grateful for the DOJ’s thoughtful involvement,” Booker said. “It has been very constructive.”
While the group works through the remaining sticking points, it has found tentative agreement on other issues including no knock warrants, chokeholds and the 1033 program, which allows the Department of Defense to send military equipment to state and local police departments.
“There’s always going to be areas that are harder to solve, so you go to a different area,” Scott said of how they’re working their way through the various issues. “As long as you’re constantly dealing with something that actually you want to see in the final bill, then you’re making progress while you fight over, or debate over, the difference. There’s always going to be harder issues to solve.”
“This is a vast bill,” Booker said. “We’re trying to create a vast bill that covers a lot of things, of which there is bipartisan support, that addresses the challenges we have in America on policing, and the challenges go from the abject continued violation of people’s rights that we see all the way to the real mental health issues that are affecting the policing profession, are real challenges that police are having even right now.”