A deal in Congress to overhaul policing policies proved “out of reach,” the Senate Democrat’s top negotiator conceded on Wednesday, pulling the plug on the left’s chief goal for racial justice.
Sen. Cory A. Booker, New Jersey Democrat, declared the deal dead but vowed to fight on for a makeover of America’s police departments. “After months of exhausting every possible pathway to a bipartisan deal, it remains out of reach right now,” he said.
He said it was time to consider “other option” but did not elaborate.
Mr. Booker had been in talks with the Republican’s lead negotiator, Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, for months seeking a deal that could pass the evenly divided Senate. A major hang-up was Democrats’ plan to eliminate qualified immunity for police, a legal principle that shields police and other government officials from lawsuits over their actions in the line of duty.
Mr. Booker said the main holdup was his side’s insistence that the Justice Department create a national set of police standards. He said police unions were open to the idea but Republicans said it would be a federal takeover of policing.
Mr. Scott agreed that the talks were not making progress, but he blasted his Democratic colleagues for quitting.
“I made a promise to never walk away from the table because walking away means we’re giving up on the communities and officers whose lives hang in the balance,” he said.
By calling it quits, Mr. Booker delivered a major blow to President Biden’s racial justice agenda. It also further stoked the frustration of Black voters over Congress’ inability to fulfill promises.
Nick Rathod, a deputy director of intergovernmental affairs in the Obama White House, said Black voters won’t be quick to forgive Democrats’ for not producing results.
“First, it was voting and now it’s police reform. And there’s potential for both infrastructure bills to fail,” he said. “If all of those things fall apart, it will be difficult to go back to Black and Brown communities and tell them to give us one more shot and we’ll get it done.”
The policing bill has been a top priority for Democrats after George Floyd’s death last year set off protests across the country. A policing bill named after Floyd passed the Democrat-run House in March. Among other things, it would have eliminated legal protection for police officers called qualified immunity. The bill also would have prohibited practices like chokeholds and required police officers to intervene if they see another officer committing a civil rights violation.
The proposals from the far-left, including ending qualified immunity, ran into opposition from Republicans who worried radical changes would demoralize officers amid rising violent crimes and worsen short staffing in police departments as officers have begun quitting.
Rep. Ayanna Pressley, a Massachusetts Democrat and member of the Congressional Black Caucus, laid the blame for the impasse on Republicans.
“I think it is sadly not surprising because the GOP was never negotiating in good faith. It’s just another season of Black lives don’t matter,” she said.
Though Mr. Booker vowed to seek an alternative to change policing, he stopped short of calling on the Senate to eliminate the filibuster and ram through sweeping changes in a party-line vote.
Other Democrats, particularly those on the party’s left wing, went straight for the filibuster.
“We gotta reform the filibuster,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal, chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told reporters. “Senators representing a tiny, tiny, tiny fraction of the country are getting in the way of what the people want. It’s the tyranny of the minority.”
The far left has long clamored for ending the filibuster, which would allow Democrats to ram through a liberal agenda in party-line votes.
Talking to reporters, Mr. Booker noted that he and Mr. Scott share similar experiences as Black men.
“Tim Scott and I both have had horrible experiences with police officers. They are shameful things that have happened to us directly and to members of our family that should not go on in America. We may be in different parties but we have a similar life experience,” he said.