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Biden Met With George Floyd's Family With Policing Bill Stuck In Limbo

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

George Floyd's family spent today marking a very personal tragedy in public. It's been one year since Floyd was murdered by a Minneapolis police officer. President Biden and Vice President Harris welcomed Floyd's family to the White House today. These relatives, including Floyd's young daughter Gianna, appeared later in front of the press.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GIANNA FLOYD: Say his name.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: George Floyd.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Say it again a little bit louder.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Say it loud, baby.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Say it a little louder.

GIANNA: Say his name.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: George Floyd.

CHANG: The president set today as a deadline for Congress to pass policing legislation named for George Floyd, but negotiations are still ongoing. NPR political reporter Juana Summers has been covering this and joins us now.

Hi, Juana.

JUANA SUMMERS, BYLINE: Hey there.

CHANG: So what do we know about what happened at that meeting at the White House today?

SUMMERS: Members of George Floyd's family describe the meeting as really personal. They said that the president and vice president offered their condolences, asked them how they were doing. One of their lawyers said that President Biden even played with Gianna Floyd and that it was actually a happy day for them.

CHANG: Well, I understand that the family has been in D.C. all day, lobbying lawmakers to pass this George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. How have they been making their case?

SUMMERS: Take a listen to what George Floyd's nephew Brandon Williams had to say about how President Biden talked with them about that bill.

BRANDON WILLIAMS: And they let us know that he supports passing the bill, but he wants to make sure that it's the right bill and not a worse bill. He also said that he set the deadline. He's not happy about it not being met. But all in all, he just wants to be able to be right and meaningful and that it holds George's legacy intact.

SUMMERS: Family attorney Benjamin Crump made the point today that this should not be about pitting policing against civil rights. He said that everyone should want just policing, and he described that as the kind of policing where Floyd would have been able to breathe without having a knee placed on his neck.

CHANG: Right. Well, can you just update us on where things stand right now with these negotiations among lawmakers? Like, is there a sense we're even close to a deal at this point?

SUMMERS: So key lawmakers who are involved in these negotiations have said that the talks are continuing really productively. One of them, Congresswoman Karen Bass of California, said today that she believes that everyone involved understands the urgency of moving quickly. She said she believes lawmakers will be able to get a deal across the finish line. Across the Capitol, South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, the lead negotiator for Republicans, said yesterday that he could see the end of the tunnel.

CHANG: OK, so what's been the holdup?

SUMMERS: The biggest sticking point remains this debate over accountability for individual police officers, including the doctrine of qualified immunity. That shield for individual officers to avoid lawsuits is something Democrats broadly are opposed to and most Republicans just really don't want to touch. Senator Scott has been working on a possible compromise that would shift the legal burden from individual officers to departments instead, but that could cause some Democrats to not support this bill at all. Earlier today I talked with Missouri Congresswoman Cori Bush.

CORI BUSH: I believe that eliminating qualified immunity for law enforcement officers must be included in any bill that gets passed in the Senate just like what we did on our side in the House. And it ultimately needs to be signed into law by our president. I have made that a red line. There has to be a clear red line with that.

SUMMERS: Now, Bush's House colleague Karen Bass, speaking today, seemed to indicate that any compromise that she would support has to take some sort of action on qualified immunity, but she was not specific on what that could potentially look like.

CHANG: That is NPR's Juana Summers.

Thank you, Juana.

SUMMERS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.