Democrats, Republicans Hustle on Police Reform as Anniversary of George Floyd's Death Nears

Republicans and Democrats from the U.S. House and the Senate spent much of Thursday meeting with families of Black men who have died in police custody, including the family of George Floyd, as they work to craft bipartisan police reform legislation that can pass in the coming weeks.

President Joe Biden has challenged Congress to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act by May 25, but some members are hesitant to embrace that timeline as broader negotiations to craft a bipartisan agreement begin in earnest.

Philonise Floyd, the brother of George Floyd, told reporters as he walked the U.S. Capitol hallways for meetings with negotiation leaders that the "legislation has my brother's blood on it and all the other families' blood on it."

"We're here today because we need to let everybody know how we feel about our brothers and our families and family members who have been killed for anything that they shouldn't have been killed for," he said. "We're just here to just get our point across and let them know that we're hurting, we're still in pain."

Biden made the May 25 goal public during his first address to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday, which was viewed by millions of people.

"We need to work together to find a consensus, but let's get it done next month, by the first anniversary of George Floyd's death," Biden said.

Floyd, 46, died in police custody after then-Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin pinned Floyd to the pavement with his knee pressed on Floyd's neck for more than nine minutes. His death, captured on video by witnesses, sparked a wave of protests across the country last year, calling for police reform measures and justice for families.

Chauvin, 45, was convicted of murder and manslaughter this month and is behind bars while awaiting sentencing.

Senator Tim Scott, a South Carolina Republican, has been tasked with leading negotiations with Senator Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat, for the upper chamber, where the legislation must have bipartisan support for passage because it would need 60 votes.

"We have more information that allows us to work towards a result, and that's positive," Scott told reporters after meetings.

But Scott, who gave the GOP's rebuttal to Biden's address, indicated he's not swayed by Biden's timeline.

"I think the best thing we can do is keep in mind why we're doing what we're doing, and what we're doing is trying to make our communities and our law enforcement community, easier to work together," he said. "I think as long as we keep that as our focus, we will work expeditiously to get to a solution."

The House already passed a version of the bill but is also involved in negotiations and meetings because any changes will need the lower chamber's approval.

But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also wouldn't make a hard commitment to Biden's deadline.

"We will bring it to the floor when we are ready," she told reporters during her weekly press briefing. "We will be ready when we have a good strong bipartisan deal."

In Capitol meetings Thursday, Philonise Floyd was joined by Alissa Finley, whose brother Botham Jean who was murdered in his Dallas apartment by an off-duty police officer who was in the wrong apartment; Tiffany Crutcher, whose brother Terence Crutcher was shot and killed by a police officer in Tulsa; and Gwen Carr, whose son Eric Garner died in New York City police custody after he was put in a chokehold.

"They can get it done—no doubt, Congress can get it done," Finley told reporters after meeting with lawmakers. "We're here to make them see firsthand, of what police brutality does to a family. We're here to urge them to do what is right, so that we can move forward so that we can stop or prevent another killing of an unarmed Black or brown person."

U.S. Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, a New York Democrat, told reporters at the Capitol on Thursday, that she felt like Biden setting a goal for next month was "a shot in the arm" to accelerate the process.

"That's just what we got," she said. "But I know we'll work through it, and get the best bill in the time that we get it."

Congress negotiates George Floyd police reform bill
People raise their fists and hold a portrait of George Floyd during a rally following the guilty verdict the trial of Derek Chauvin on April 20, in Atlanta. President Joe Biden has challenged Congress to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act by May 25. Elijah Nouvelage / AFP/Getty Images