U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, on Wednesday said he is hopeful the Senate can strike a bipartisan deal ending a long-running gridlock on police reform as pressure builds over a national reckoning around racism and policing.
"I think there's clearly an appetite on both sides to address legitimate issues about policing in America," Grassley said on a conference call with Iowa reporters Wednesday.
Currently, progress toward a bipartisan deal remains stalled as sticking points, such as qualified immunity, remain.
Grassley said he was appalled along with the rest of the nation in watching video of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pressing his knee into George Floyd's neck, ignoring the Black man's repeated cries that he couldn't breathe while handcuffed and lying on his stomach.
Chauvin was convicted Tuesday by a Minneapolis jury that found the 45-year-old guilty of second- and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter for Floyd's death last May.
Senators in both parties say Chauvin’s conviction has heaped more pressure on the Senate to finally enact nationwide police reform.
"I think that police reform is going to be prioritized as a result of this, as it was a year ago when Floyd was murdered," Grassley said, blaming Democrats for blocking Sen. Tim Scott’s, R-South Carolina, police reform bill last summer.
"If the Democrats hadn't filibustered Tim Scott's police reform bill last year, that would have been law now and helped to some extent," Grassley said.
Scott, who stopped in Davenport last week for an Iowa GOP reception, said he planned to reintroduce the bill soon.
Scott's bill sought to encourage an end to police use of chokeholds, made lynching a federal crime, increased disclosure requirements for the use of force, provided new funding for training on de-escalation techniques and more.
Democrats, though, criticized the bill as an inadequate response to nationwide calls for action to address police misconduct and racial injustice, and pushed for a more stringent approach.
President Joe Biden on Tuesday called on the Senate to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.
"We need Congress to act," Biden said. "George Floyd died almost a year ago. There's meaningful police reform legislation in his name."
The bill, which passed the U.S. House in March, remains mired in the Senate. The legislation would ban chokeholds and no-knock warrants, mandate data collection on police encounters and create a nationwide police misconduct registry to help hold problematic officers accountable.
The bill would also prohibit racial profiling and end qualified immunity for law enforcement. The legal defense shields police officers from civil liability, and has been a thorn in passing police reforms in the past.
Supporters of the legal defense argue it allows officers to perform their duties without fear of being held personally liable for things that happen on the job, unless they violate a clearly established law or constitution right.
Defenders argue the immunity's broad protection is intended for all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law, while giving breathing room to law enforcement to make reasonable mistakes when making split-second decisions about whether to use force to subdue a fleeing or resisting suspect. Critics contend its shields law enforcement from accountability.
Asked whether he would be willing to compromise on the issue of qualified immunity in the interest of moving the larger bill forward, Grassley said: "I'd have to see what the compromise is," and would not dismiss out of hand.
Grassley, however, said he does not support repealing qualified immunity, seen as a poison pill for Republicans in any police reform proposal.
As such, Grassley said he felt it difficult to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act in the Senate, and that efforts were better focused on striking a deal over Scott's bill, which he argued contains provisions with more bipartisan support.
"Now, this is a different environment, a different Congress, and who knows what can be worked out when people sit down and start to talk about it, and I think they will," Grassley said. "And I'll be glad to be there."