High-stakes talks over a major change in policing laws are at a precarious stage, with influential law enforcement groups being decided, lawmakers struggling to bridge the gap on long-standing stocking points and scepticism among many congressional Republicans about the need for legislation at a time of rising crime in the United States.
The complicated dynamic comes at a crucial time: After blowing past two deadlines, lawmakers say they need to make a decision by August on whether they can reach a deal or pull the plug. And now it’s anyone’s guess whether a deal can be reached, a sharp shift from just weeks ago when the talks were seen as the most likely to produce a bipartisan accord amid high-profile episodes of deadly police violence.
California Rep. Karen Bass, the lead House Democratic negotiator, reported on Tuesday that “one of the problems right now” is how some of the law enforcement groups are approaching the prospect of new legislation.
“I think the big thing going on in law enforcement is whether or not they want to be open to reform. … So, I think that they are looking at the bills as something we are doing to them, as opposed to something we want to do with them.”
Bass added the organizations are “all in conflict with each other” and are “all fighting each other.”
“They have long standing conflicts with each other, so the infighting in law enforcement is impacting what we’re doing,” she said.
The negotiators — Bass, Sen. Cory Booker, a Democrat of New Jersey, and Sen. Tim Scott, a Republican of South Carolina — announced last week in a joint statement that they had “reached agreement on a framework,” adding they “look forward to continuing our work toward getting a finalized proposal across the finish line.”
But several sources familiar with the matter told the media that there remain ample areas of disagreement, and Bass confirmed on Tuesday that the hot-button issue of qualified immunity — protections given to police officers in civil court — remains unresolved.
Complicating the matter is the lack of appetite among congressional Republicans to back any deal that can be portrayed as targeting the police — just as the GOP is settling on a midterm election message that relies heavily on law-and-order themes. And without strong backing from law enforcement groups, the prospects of winning sufficient support among Republicans grow slimmer.
“I wouldn’t call it infighting, I’d call it different priorities,” one law enforcement official involved with negotiations told the press, underscoring that each law enforcement group serves its own specific constituency leading to different takes on what they’re willing to accept.
Some civil rights groups involved in the negotiations have pointed to the National Sheriffs’ Association and the National Association of Police Organizations as the two groups most resistant to reforms, according to a source familiar with the talks.