By Philip Wegmann for RealClearPolitics
Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin had just been found guilty on all counts when the family of George Floyd took a phone call in a hallway of the Hennepin County Courthouse. It was the president. He was on speakerphone.
“Nothing is going to make it all better, but at least now there is some justice,” Joe Biden told the grieving family before promising that Floyd’s 7-year-old daughter, Gianna, would ultimately be proved right when she said, “My dad is going to change the world.”
Changing the world, in this case, means changing policing in America. But to accomplish his goals, Biden needs Congress.
The filibuster, the parliamentary procedure that requires 60 Senate votes to pass legislation, could very well hang in the balance.
Democrats are on board and said as much after offering prayers just off the steps of the U.S. Capitol following the verdict on Tuesday.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi addressed the deceased directly: “Thank you, George Floyd, for sacrificing your life for justice. Because of you and because of thousands – millions — of people around the world … your name will always be synonymous for justice.”
Pelosi was referring to the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, legislation that would ban chokeholds and no-knock warrants, institute a national police misconduct registry, and significantly reform qualified immunity for law enforcement officers.
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The House passed that bill. It is mired in the Senate, but Rep. Karen Bass has been working with senators to find a compromise.
That California Democrat said as recently as Sunday that the Republicans she is working with “are operating in good faith.”
“I am hopeful, because the group of people where we have been having just informal discussions are very sincere, and it’s a bipartisan group,” Bass told CNN’s Jake Tapper.
“And I believe that we want to make something happen.” The ultimate goal? According to Bass: “a solution that will garner the supermajority that is needed to pass legislation in the Senate.”
This means Bass needs at least 10 Republicans. While New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker has run point for the initiative on the left, Republican Sen. Tim Scott “has been a complete honest broker” and remains “key,” Bass said.
The South Carolina Republican signaled a willingness to get reform into law after saying Tuesday that there was “no question in my mind” that the jury reached the appropriate verdict in the Chauvin trial.
“While this outcome should give us renewed confidence in the integrity of our justice system, we know there is more work to be done to ensure the bad apples do not define all officers — the vast majority of whom put on the uniform each day with integrity and servant hearts,” Scott said.
Senate Republicans have looked to him for leadership on the issue. They backed his police reform bill last year before a Democrat-led filibuster ended that legislation’s chances of surviving the Senate.
But the GOP is in the minority now and Scott is just one senator. Democrats need another nine votes from across the aisle if they are going to make Bass’ supermajority a reality.
Such bipartisanship might remain beyond reach. There was already ill-will on both sides Tuesday. Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy led an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to censure Rep. Maxine Waters after the California Democrat urged Minneapolis protesters to “stay on the street” and “get more confrontational” if Chauvin was acquitted.
And after the president told reporters he was “praying the verdict is the right verdict,” Texas Sen. Ted Cruz reacted by tweeting that Biden had “foolishly” provided “grounds for a mistrial or a possible basis on appeal to challenge any guilty conviction.”
Republicans are already wary of what they see as a power grab. For instance, Al Sharpton, who flew on a private jet to Minneapolis to be with the Floyd family, has been busy lobbying moderate Democrats to support voting rights legislation and do away with the filibuster.
“The pressure that we are going to put on [Kyrsten] Sinema and [Joe] Manchin is calling it racist and saying that they are, in effect, supporting racism” by supporting the filibuster, Sharpton told Politico earlier this week.
“Why would they be wedded to something that has those results? Their voters need to know that.”
With the president saying “systemic racism is a stain on our nation’s soul” and insisting a police reform bill is necessary to begin erasing it, conservatives worry that the filibuster might not be long for this world. Progressives have already been clamoring for it to be wiped away as an obstacle to their agenda.
“If Democrats had any interest in pushing bipartisan police reform, Sen. Tim Scott did everything humanly possible to get them to the table last year. They don’t want to do bipartisan reform,” a senior Republican aide told RealClearPolitics on condition of anonymity. “They want to politicize the loss of life to get rid of the filibuster and pass their extreme agenda.”
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