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Lawmakers Optimistic in Police Reform Talks
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Lawmakers Optimistic in Police Reform Talks

Plus: Cabinet officials will testify on Biden’s budget requests this week.

Good morning. I’m on the road coming back from a wedding today, so this edition of Uphill is a little more abbreviated than normal. (Think of it as balancing out the behemoth 3,300-word edition we sent you on Friday.)

Police Reform Update

Negotiators say they’re making progress on a potential police reform compromise—but success is far from certain, and progressives in the House are signaling they’ll oppose anything that waters down some of the main Democratic priorities in the bill. 

This week will be critical for the development of the legislation. South Carolina Republican Sen. Tim Scott is continuing to meet with Sen. Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat, and Rep. Karen Bass, a California Democrat, to hammer out the details.

Scott sounded optimistic about the talks on Monday night, telling reporters the trio made progress over the weekend. “I think we can see the end of the tunnel,” he said. 

And Booker said he plans to pull long days all week “in hopes that by the time we come out of the weekend we have more of this framework.”

Lawmakers are broadly in agreement on several items, like limiting the use of chokeholds and encouraging police departments around the country to embrace body cameras. There are still important disagreements for the two parties to work through, though.

One of the biggest hurdles is qualified immunity—the legal doctrine that largely shields police officers from civil liability. Democrats would like to eliminate qualified immunity altogether to enhance accountability for officers. Republicans argue the protections are important for police to be able to do their jobs. Scott has proposed making it easier to sue police departments and local governments in cases of law enforcement abuse instead of individual officers.

Earlier this month, House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn notably left the door open to a deal that does not include an end to qualified immunity.

“I want to see good legislation, and I know that sometimes you have to compromise,” Clyburn, a South Carolina Democrat, said on CNN. “If you don’t get qualified immunity now, then we’ll come back and try to get it later, but I don’t want to see us throw out a good bill because we can’t get a perfect bill.”

A group of 10 House progressives split with Clyburn on that point, sending a letter to congressional leaders on Friday indicating they’re not willing to accept a bill that doesn’t scrap qualified immunity.

“Given that police violence, as a weapon of structural racism, continues to have devastating and deadly consequences for Black and brown lives across our country, we strongly urge you to not only maintain but strengthen the provision eliminating qualified immunity as negotiations in the Senate continue,” the lawmakers wrote. You can read the letter in full here.

“As negotiations continue, know this: there can be no true justice in America if we cannot save lives, just like there can be no true accountability in America if we do not eliminate qualified immunity,” they added.

With a remarkably slim margin in the chamber, Democrats can only afford to lose a few of their members in order to pass legislation in the House without Republican support. If all 10 of the Democrats who wrote the letter oppose the potential deal, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would have to rely on some level of GOP buy-in to send the measure to Biden’s desk.

A vote on any kind of compromise wouldn’t be immediate: The House isn’t scheduled to return from recess until the third week of June.

Booker, Scott, and Bass said in a joint statement Monday that the first anniversary of George Floyd’s murder today “serves as a painful reminder of why we must make meaningful change.”

“While we are still working through our differences on key issues, we continue to make progress toward a compromise and remain optimistic about the prospects of achieving that goal,” they wrote. 

President Joe Biden had previously urged Congress to reach a deal by the one-year mark of Floyd’s death. 

“We obviously are not going to make the May 25 deadline, but I don’t have any reason to think it’s going to be two months later,” Bass told CBS News. “Right now, I don’t have any reason to think it won’t be more than a couple of weeks.” 

You can read more about the differences between Democrats’ George Floyd Justice in Policing Act and Republicans’ JUSTICE Act here.

On the Floor

The House is out this week. The Senate is expected to vote on Chiquita Brooks-LaSure to be administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services today. The chamber is also set to consider Kristen Clarke to be an assistant attorney general. Senators will continue to vote on amendments to a massive research and development investments bill intended to boost American competition with China. 

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Monday that the chamber will vote “very soon” on the House’s legislation to establish an independent commission to investigate the January 6 attack on the Capitol. That vote could come as soon as this week, but it could also land on a later date. “I will have more to say on that in the coming days,” Schumer said of the schedule.

Key Hearings

  • The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on military space operations and policy Wednesday afternoon with Gen. David Thompson—vice chief of space operations for the U.S. Space Force—and other officials. Information and livestream here

  • CDC Director Rochelle Walensky will testify before a House Appropriations subcommittee Wednesday at 10 a.m. on the CDC’s fiscal year 2022 budget request. Information and livestream here

  • Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas will testify before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee Wednesday at 2 p.m. on the administration’s DHS budget request. Information and livestream here

  • Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley will appear before a House Appropriations subcommittee on Thursday at 1 p.m. to discuss the administration’s fiscal year 2022 Defense Department budget request. Information and livestream here

  • Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen will testify before a House Appropriations subcommittee on Thursday morning. Information and livestream here

Of Note

Haley Wilt is a former associate editor for The Dispatch.