George Floyd’s family emerged from a more than hour-long White House meeting and said President Biden “wasn’t happy” that Congress hadn’t yet passed an overhaul of policing laws but would not rush the legislative process.
The family urged Congress to pass new laws intended to curtail police brutality and prevent deaths at officers’ hands.
“If you can make federal law to protect a bird, which is the bald eagle, you can make federal law to protect people of color,” said Floyd’s brother, Philonise Floyd.
The White House meeting, which included Vice President Kamala Harris, came as members of Congress failed to meet Mr. Biden’s challenge to pass a major policing bill by the anniversary on Tuesday of Floyd’s murder.
Democrats and Republicans are divided over how far to go in making sweeping changes from banning chokeholds to allowing police officers to be sued for their actions while on duty.
Benjamin Crump, an attorney who represents the family, said Mr. Biden told them that he is still committed to signing a bill when it reaches his desk. But echoing congressional Democrats, Mr. Biden said he is more concerned that the bill makes real changes than meets a deadline.
“He said he doesn’t want to sign a bill that doesn’t have substance and meaning,” Mr. Crump said outside the White House. “So he’s going to be patient to make sure it’s the right bill, not a rushed bill.”
In a statement after the meeting, Mr. Biden said former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin’s recent conviction on second-degree murder and other charges was a start. “But our progress can’t stop there,” he said, calling on Congress to “deliver real change.”
“We face an inflection point. The battle for the soul of America has been a constant push and pull between the American ideal that we’re all created equal and the harsh reality that racism has long torn us apart,” the president said.
Mr. Biden mainly wanted to see how the family is doing and played with Floyd’s young daughter, Gianna, who was 6 when her father was killed, said Chris Stewart, another attorney for the family.
“This may be a sad day across the country, but this is a super happy day to see her smile,” he said of Floyd’s daughter.
The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act was passed by House Democrats in March but lacks enough Republican votes to pass the Senate. It would make several changes to policing, including eliminating qualified immunity, barring racial profiling by police and creating a national database of police officers who are fired or leave a department after being accused of misconduct.
It also would ban chokeholds and no-knock warrants by federal law enforcement officers and strip federal dollars from local police agencies that do not do the same.
Mr. Biden issued his challenge to pass the bill during his April 29 address to a joint session of Congress. “We have to come together to rebuild trust between law enforcement and the people they serve, to root out systemic racism in our criminal justice system, and to enact police reform in George Floyd’s name that passed the House already,” he said
“We need to work together to find a consensus. But let’s get it done next month, by the first anniversary of George Floyd’s death,” Mr. Biden said.
However, Mr. Biden has largely been silent since then, as Congress has been unable to reach a deal. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Mr. Biden had not used his bully pulpit to push a deal because he wanted to give lawmakers room to negotiate a bipartisan agreement.
She noted that he had used the congressional address to highlight Floyd’s death, which she said had affected him personally.
“As soon as possible. He’d like to see a bill as soon as possible,” she said when asked whether Mr. Biden is setting a new deadline.
The meeting with Mr. Biden was the latest and most prominent stop for Floyd’s family as they made the rounds in Washington urging Congress to pass the policing bill.
Gianna famously said in a video clip amid the international protests last summer sparked by her father’s death that “Daddy changed the world.”
Philonise Floyd recalled that at the Capitol on Tuesday morning before the family met with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and top Democrats involved in the negotiations.
“We need meaningful legislation. We need to get this taken care of. Just like Gianna said,” he said before turning to ask his niece what needs to happen.
“Change the world,” she said.
“If a child can see that, we as adults should be able to see that,” Mr. Floyd said. “We should all be able to see that we should all be able to work together. We need to be making sure people don’t live in fear in America any more.”
However, congressional Democrats and Republicans negotiating a policing bill are divided over how far to go. Lawmakers said they are continuing to talk and think they can reach a deal.
“We still have a way to go still but it’s starting to take form,” Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, the Republicans’ lead negotiator in the talks, told reporters Tuesday.
Rep. Karen Bass of California, one of the top Democrats in the talks, promised the sides will come to a deal to reform policing in America at a press event with the Floyd family at the Capitol.
“I renew the commitment that we will get this bill on President Biden’s desk,” she said.
“What is important when it reaches President Biden’s desk is that it is a substantive piece of legislation, and that is more important than whether it is done by a certain date,” she said.
A particular sticking point continues to be a demand from the left to eliminate a shield that makes it difficult to sue police officers for their actions in the line of duty. Democrats see eliminating the legal protection as a way to hold abusive officers accountable.
Mr. Scott, only of only three Black senators, has said he doesn’t want to expose officers to being sued as they deal with a difficult and dangerous job. However, he said the sides are making progress.
Other Republicans were less optimistic.
“I don’t want to spend too much time trying to make trial lawyers rich,” Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, told reporters.