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Biden criticizes Senate Republicans after police reform negotiations end without a deal

<i>Evan Vucci/AP</i><br/>President Joe Biden
Evan Vucci
Evan Vucci/AP
President Joe Biden

By Jason Hoffman, CNN

President Joe Biden on Wednesday criticized Senate Republicans after the bipartisan talks around overhauling policing laws broke down without a deal, critiquing the GOP for rejecting even modest reforms.

In a statement, Biden thanked Democratic Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Rep. Karen Bass of California for their work on the bill, and heaped blame on the GOP for the legislation dying after months of negotiations.

“Regrettably, Senate Republicans rejected enacting modest reforms, which even the previous president had supported, while refusing to take action on key issues that many in law enforcement were willing to address,” Biden said.

Booker had earlier made clear in a private conversation with Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, the chief Republican negotiator on the issue, that bipartisan policing talks are over.

Booker, Scott and Bass spent some six months trying to hash out a deal that could win 60 votes in the Senate, but talks were stymied by a number of complicated issues like qualified immunity, a legal doctrine that protects police officers from being sued in civil court.

“It was clear at this negotiating table, in this moment, we were not making progress,” Booker told reporters in the Capitol. “In fact, recent back-and-forth with paper showed me that we were actually moving away from it. The negotiations we were in stopped. But the work will continue.”

Bass said, “The problem is, at some point you just have to say, ‘Are you going to come to agreements or not?’ That’s it.” The lawmaker continued: “It wasn’t like there was a big fight. It wasn’t like there was a big rupture, but at a certain point, you have to recognize that you’re just spinning your wheels.”

Earlier this year, the policing talks were seen by many on the Hill as having the best chance of actually turning into bipartisan legislation. With the talks’ demise, Biden sees another one of his legislative priorities stall out in Congress.

Calls for greater accountability in policing saw a resurgence after George Floyd was killed by a police officer in Minneapolis, sparking nationwide protests against racism and police brutality.

Biden had initially hoped that the key lawmakers involved in police reform negotiations could craft a compromise by the anniversary of Floyd’s death, but qualified immunity and Democrats’ desire for changes to Section 242, a portion of federal law that sets the standard for criminally prosecuting police officers, remained a sticking point in negotiations.

The President expressed hope that he can still sign a comprehensive police reform bill into law “because we need legislation to ensure lasting and meaningful change,” and indicated in his statement Democrats might have to do that on their own.

“This moment demands action, and we cannot allow those who stand in the way of progress to prevent us from answering the call,” he wrote, touting steps his administration has already taken through the Justice Department.

Vice President Kamala Harris called Senate Republicans’ refusal to act on policing “unconscionable” in a statement released Wednesday night, echoing the President’s sentiment that Democrats may have to move forward on the issue unilaterally.

She thanked Booker and Bass, before laying the blame for the end of the negotiations on the GOP.

“Today, however, we learned that Senate Republicans chose to reject even the most modest reforms. Their refusal to act is unconscionable. Millions of people marched in the streets to see reform and accountability, not further inaction,” Harris said in her statement.

“Moving forward, we are committed to exploring every available action at the executive level to advance the cause of justice in our nation,” she continued.

This story has been updated with additional details Wednesday.

™ & © 2021 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Shawna Mizelle contributed to this report.

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