House may return early to consider policing overhaul

Congressional Black Caucus taking the lead in sifting through more than 40 proposals

Police in riot gear react to demonstrators as they gather to protest the death of George Floyd near the White House in Washington on Sunday, May 31, 2020. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
Police in riot gear react to demonstrators as they gather to protest the death of George Floyd near the White House in Washington on Sunday, May 31, 2020. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
Posted June 2, 2020 at 12:43pm

The House could return to session earlier than June 30 to consider legislation to overhaul policing laws in response to the killing of George Floyd and nationwide unrest about racial injustices, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer told reporters Tuesday.

“If in fact legislation is proposed by the CBC, Congressional Black Caucus, is considered by the committee and ready to go, we will then call all the members back to consider and pass that legislation,” the Maryland Democrat said on his weekly press call.

[Congress plotting action against police brutality, racial injustices in response to Floyd death]

The CBC is taking the lead in sifting through various legislative proposals members have offered and plans to recommend legislation the House should consider “in the near term,” Hoyer said.

“There are many, many proposals that have been filed by very many members — well over 40 pieces of legislation; maybe over 50 pieces of legislation,” he said. 

Their goal in developing legislation is “to stop this tragic loss of life, to strengthen accountability and to continue to reform our criminal justice system,” Hoyer said.

“They want to be directed at obtaining justice, undermining violence, and they want to be sure that the legislation they propose will be effective in stopping the murder of people who are either under arrest or being pursued, either by police or by private sector individuals. They want to make sure there is accountability for the loss of lives, which is unjustified,” he added.

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The bills the CBC recommends could be packaged together into one measure for floor consideration, Hoyer said.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters at the Capitol Tuesday that some members want a comprehensive bill, while others prefer a more individual approach. “In a matter of just a short time, those decisions will be made and I think the American people will be well-served,” the California Democrat said.

While Hoyer said he hopes whatever legislation the CBC comes up with will be bipartisan, he only talked about conversations happening within the Democratic Caucus.

Several CBC members, including California Rep. Karen Bass, the caucus's chairwoman, serve on the Judiciary Committee. The panel is planning a hearing on the the topic and is expected to mark up whatever bills the CBC recommends.

Hoyer expressed his personal support for a proposal from House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries of New York to outlaw use of chokeholds but otherwise declined to take a position on specific proposals.

Asked specifically about a proposal to end qualified immunity, which shields police from being sued for actions performed within their official capacity, Hoyer said, “That clearly is one of the issues under consideration by the CBC and by the Judiciary Committee.”

Hoyer was also asked about President Donald Trump ordering the Secret Service, other law enforcement officers and the National Guard to disperse protesters around the White House Monday night so he could walk over to St. John’s church, which had been set on fire a night earlier, for a media appearance.

“It is certainly an action worthy and appropriate to censure and to criticize,” Hoyer said, but noted Democrats have not yet had conversations about a censure resolution, committee investigations or actions.

“It was a terrible act,” he added. “It was an act that indicated the total lack of understanding and empathy with the anger and frustration and cry for justice that was being put out, simply to facilitate a photo op obviously designed for political purposes, not designed to bring the country together, not designed to explain the difference between the peaceful protesters and some who would undermine the message by the use of violence.”

Pelosi also commented on the situation that occurred outside the White House Monday evening. “Some people came out and beat them so they could clear the area so the President could come out and go forward. What is that?” she said. “That has no place, and it’s time for us to do away with that, ‘a time to heal,’ the Book of Ecclesiastes.” Pelosi said she hopes moving forward Trump “would follow the lead of so many other presidents before him to be a healer in chief and not a fanner of the flame.”