Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham announced that he will hold a hearing on George Floyd’s death, with a “deep dive” on policing and race relations.
Graham, a close ally of President Donald Trump, said he has tentatively set a June 16 hearing on the issue, which returned to the forefront after the death of George Floyd while being arrested by Minneapolis police. Four officers were fired and one of them was charged with third-degree murder in the incident, which was recorded on video.
“The overwhelming issue for us is after you stop the rioting, which we will, what are you going to do about the problem that led to the protest?” the South Carolina Republican asked at a hearing on the coronavirus pandemic Tuesday. “I think this committee has a unique opportunity to build on some things the Obama administration did and ask ourselves some hard questions.”
Under President Barack Obama, the Justice Department began reviews of abuses by police departments and the administration and limited the transfer of some surplus military equipment to local law enforcement. Trump reversed those efforts after taking office.
Graham wasn’t the only Republican looking to the Obama administration for inspiration on what to do next. Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, a member of the GOP leadership, said he planned to encourage Attorney General William Barr to reinstate the pattern and practice reviews of police departments, saying that they improved the situation in cities in his state, including in Ferguson, where a police shooting of a black man in 2014 sparked riots, and St. Louis.
“They are not doing that now, I think they should return to the ability to do that,” Blunt said. “Looking at individuals is important, but it’s not enough.”
A third Republican, Rob Portman of Ohio, suggested creating a national commission on race potentially headed by Obama and former President George W. Bush, Trump’s two immediate predecessors.
Trump’s response to the protests and rioting that followed Floyd’s death has been harshly criticized by Democrats, but most Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have avoided directly contradicting the president.
McConnell did say the Senate would have to look at the issue of police accountability but called that and the issue of “residual racism” tough problems to solve.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer attempted Tuesday to get unanimous consent for a resolution that would condemn Trump “for ordering federal officers to use gas and rubber bullets against the Americans who were peaceably protesting.” McConnell blocked the move.
Schumer in turn blocked a resolution from McConnell to condemn police abuses and rioting while backing peaceful protests.
Graham did differ with Trump about the source of violence and looting, saying he doesn’t believe “antifa,” a loosely organized leftist movement that is a frequent target of conservative critics, is behind all of it. The president has said he would designate the group as terrorists.
Graham empathized with African Americans who feel threatened by police. He said most of the police officers who have engaged in abuse are outliers but usually have had multiple cases.
“Why are they still on the force? How can we weed out the bad apples?” he said.
While Graham didn’t outline any specific legislative response, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said Tuesday Democrats have proposed scores of bills to “ensure transparency and accountability” for local police departments.
The Congressional Black Caucus is taking the lead on developing a legislative package, Hoyer said. One issue to be taken up may be curtailing the “qualified immunity” that courts have given police from civil lawsuits stemming from excessive use of force or other misconduct while in the course of performing official duties.
“I hope that will be bipartisan legislation,” Hoyer said, though he gave no indication that Democrats were seeking out Republicans.
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Barack Obama is an American politician and attorney who served as the 44th president of the United States from 2009 to 2017. A member of the Democratic Party, Obama was the first African-American president of the United States. He previously served as a U.S. senator from Illinois from 2005 to 2008 and an Illinois state senator from 1997 to 2004.
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