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Rep. Karen Bass on Democratic police reform bill and changing a culture of ‘impunity’

House Democrats are set to pass a comprehensive police reform bill. Led by the Congressional Black Caucus, the measure would create a ban on some police practices, such as chokeholds and the use of no-knock warrants in federal drug cases. It would also make it easier to punish officers for misconduct. Lisa Desjardins reports and talks to Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., who chairs the caucus.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    After weeks of nationwide protests following the death of George Floyd, Democrats in the U.S. House are set to pass a comprehensive police reform bill later tonight.

    Lisa Desjardins has more.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Led by the Congressional Black Caucus, the House bill, named in honor of George Floyd, would create new federal bans on some police practices, and make it easier to punish officers for misconduct.

    But tonight's vote comes a day of Democrats — comes after — the day after Democrats blocked a Republican-led police reform bill from passing the Senate.

    The Democrats' Justice in Policing Act would ban police choke holds federally. It would also ban no-knock warrants in federal drug cases. And, again, it would make it easier to punish and prosecute police misconduct.

    Joining me now to discuss the House effort is Congresswoman Karen Bass. She is the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.

    Thank you for joining us, Congresswoman.

    First, tell me about your approach. And, also, how is it different than Republicans' approach so far?

  • Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif.:

    Well, actually, if you're going to talk about Republican approach, you probably are referring to Senator Scott's bill.

    Senator Scott mimics parts of our bill, so he addresses choke holds, he addresses the federal registry, he addresses no-knock warrants, but he doesn't really have any teeth in his bill, the enforcement piece. So we don't need to study choke holds. We don't need to have data collection about no-knock warrants. We don't need to have a federal registry that nobody sees.

    It needs to be public, choke holds need to be banned, and no-knocks in federal drug cases need to be banned.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    You and the Congressional Black Caucus clearly disagree and think that they — that the Republicans in that Tim Scott bill are not going far enough.

    But you also took the step of urging Senate colleagues to not even open that bill for debate, even though Republicans were offering a chance to amend the bill in the Senate. Obviously, in the Senate, 60 votes, a bipartisan measure, is needed to pass.

    Why not even begin to begin debate on the Senate bill, which is what you're saying?

  • Rep. Karen Bass:

    Well, let me be clear. That's the process in the Senate.

    And so our focus is on the House. What we issued was a statement in support of our two senators, which is Senator Harris and Senator Booker. You know, they offered the same bill that we had in the House.

    But, you know, this is just the sausage-making. It's part of the process. And so we're going to pass the bill out of the House in the next couple of hours, and negotiations will begin.

    I have had several discussions with Senator Scott. I plan to call him later tonight. I'm talking to my Republican colleagues.

    I will tell you, what is interesting and the reason why I'm hopeful is that my Republican colleagues over here in the House who are opposed to the bill, in the debate, they talked about everything under the sun except for the bill, which makes me feel like there are grounds for us to come together.

    Sometimes, this is just how the process works. And I will tell you, this is hyperspeed for Congress. George Floyd was killed 30 days ago. And so for us to come up with a comprehensive piece of legislation in 30 days, if we had started with negotiation, instead of moving forward with a clear signal as to what we believe should be done to lead to transformative change, there's no way we would be voting on anything now.

    And so the process will continue, negotiations will begin, and I believe that we will be able to deliver for the American people a bill on President Trump's desk.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Let me follow up on that.

    You're calling Senate Scott tonight. You know Senator Lindsey Graham and his Republican colleagues said today he thinks this issue is essentially dead in the Senate. Tell me exactly what you think the way forward is here. You think there could be some negotiations?

  • Rep. Karen Bass:

    Well, let me just tell you…

  • Lisa Desjardins:


  • Rep. Karen Bass:

    Let me just tell you, he's the last one that should say he thinks the bill is dead. He's up in a tough reelection with an incredible African-American candidate.

    So I think what is happening is posturing, political posturing. I think that's all that that is.

    When we come up with a bipartisan agreement, I'm sure Senator Graham will be the first one to put his bill on the — put his name on the bill.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    I want to talk about one of the toughest issues that you face going ahead. That's police immunity, the idea that courts have essentially kept police officers immune from lawsuits for anything that happens on the job.

    Your bill would change that. Some Republicans say that's dangerous, because it would discourage people from becoming police officers and harm families. Why do you think that needs to change?

  • Rep. Karen Bass:

    Well, let me just tell you, you go back and look at that video of George Floyd's being murdered, and that's exactly why I think it should be changed.

    That officer, who took eight minutes to slowly kill that man, was looking at the camera with his hand in his pocket, because he felt he could do that with straight impunity. He did not expect to get arrested. He did not expect to get fired.

    And that's the mentality that absolutely has to change. You know, I don't believe that good officers want to work with brutal officers. They bring down the profession.

    So, another part of our bill also calls for lifting up the profession with accreditation and national standards. You go get your hair done, and your beautician has to have national standards and accreditation. Why wouldn't the profession that has the power to kill have national standards?

    We have 18,000 police departments in the country, and we essentially have 18,000 ways of providing policing. And so that's what we're trying to do.

    Now, the immunity and the idea that officers could be sued, at the end of the day, in cities where officers are sued, it's the insurance of the city that pays for it. But we have to be able to prosecute officers.

    So, in addition to removing qualified immunity from police officers, we also lower the standard in which you can charge an officer. Right now, it has to be willful intent, meaning we have to get inside the mind of an officer.

    We want to lower it to reckless, so that, if an officer — you can be reckless and nobody looks at what was in your mind, you were just reckless in how you behaved. These are tools that we have to have in order to change the culture of policing in the United States.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    And, quickly, one quick question.

    You're under consideration, I understand, to be a potential vice president running mate with Joe Biden. Do you care to comment on that?

  • Rep. Karen Bass:

    Well, let me just say that anything in that regard needs to be referred to the campaign.

    I have one singular focus right now, and that is to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. And I am so honored and privileged to be able to have the responsibility of working on this now.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Congresswoman Karen Bass, thank you.

  • Rep. Karen Bass:

    Thank you.

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