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The early ambitions of Joe Biden’s presidency are rapidly crashing through the barriers of archaic Senate rules, testing his will to reform an institution he reveres to deliver on many of the promises he made to Americans.

It is a Washington dilemma with implications for millions of people in the real world and it determines everything from the future of raising the minimum wage to access to the vote.

In addition, it will shape Biden’s ability to hold together two factions of the Democratic Party: the moderates in swing states who distrust the appearance of giving up bipartisanship, and the more progressive who argue that Republicans are not going to collaborate anyway.

At the moment, Biden – who served as a senator for four decades and speaks of the institution with reverence, as well as with a certain revisionist air about the good old days of inter-party cooperation – is trying to find a middle ground.

Liberal Democrats applauded his willingness to try to carry out on his own a broad aid plan for the coronavirus of 1.9 trillion dollars, resorting to an option called budget reconciliation that allows passing certain laws with a simple majority or, in others words, no Republican votes. But that route has limitations, such as strict rules on what can and cannot be included in a bill.

A senator decreed that the provision for a minimum wage of $ 15 an hour was outside those limits, prompting some Democrats to ask Biden to change the limits and overturn his decision. The White House said that will not happen because of the president’s respect for “Senate processes.”

Ultimately, the House of Representatives approved the rescue package early Saturday by 219 votes in favor and 212 against. Almost certainly, the aid will pass the process of Congress although some Democrats do not see well abandon the increase in the minimum wage.

But the road ahead of Biden is made more complicated by the narrow majorities of Democrats in both houses and the scant indication that Republicans are interested in tackling climate change legislation, reviewing immigration policy or pushing forward. electoral reforms.

These measures are mostly outside the framework of reconciliation laws, which means that Biden needs to find a way to approach Republican senators from the center or to get rid of the practice of filibustering – a delaying maneuver to obstruct the passage of a law -, which would allow him to put forward all his proposals with 51 votes in the upper house.

For some Democrats, taking that step that amounts to accepting the reality of what Republicans are willing to give the president.

“Democrats made a lot of promises by winning the House, Senate and White House,” said Pramila Jayapal, a Democratic Representative for Washington, a progressive who for years has advocated removing some of the congressional rules. “So we are going to have to make a decision. Are we going to stick to those rules or are we going to use the government’s levers to work for the people? For me, that is not radical, that is governing ”.

Biden, who ran as a candidate who could overcome Washington’s bipartisanship, has suggested he would be inclined to play by the rules and try to woo moderate Republicans who may be willing to work with him.

But the accounts quickly get complicated. With the Senate divided 50%, the president needs a vote of 10 Republicans to carry out important laws. However, every move he makes to the center to get closer to them could jeopardize the backing of liberal senators.

Matt Bennett, executive director of Third Way, a center-left think tank, said he sees some value in Biden evaluating the willingness of Republicans to collaborate with him during the first weeks of his administration. But without a significant advance on the Republican wall, Bennett noted that maintaining filibustering will leave Biden with almost no options to pass his agenda before the 2022 midterm elections.

“If filibustering continues, he is going to have to do what (former President Barack) Obama did for six years, which is to use his executive power as much as possible and hope that he can get a better result in the midterm elections. term and a few more votes, ”Bennett added.

In fact, it is the lessons of the Obama presidency that have changed the opinion of many Democrats on filibusterism, including that of the former president himself.

Obama came to the White House with an enviable 60-seat Senate majority that allowed him to pass a recession bailout package and health care reform without Republican support or any legislative change. But his majority dwindled after his first two years in office, as did his ability to push through important laws.

Last year, Obama called filibustering a “Jim Crow relic” and noted that if it is used to block voting rights legislation, it should be removed.

But within the Democratic Party there is no clear consensus on the way forward. A pair of powerful moderate senators – Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona – are against this reform. Others have yet to come forward.

Both parties have been undermining this delaying tactic for years. In 2013, the then Senate Majority Leader, Democrat Harry Reid, banned it from voting for the conformation of the executive branch and some judicial nominees. In 2017, with Republican Mitch McConnell at the helm of the Senate, the 60-up vote requirement for Supreme Court nominees was removed.

Many Democrats believe that Biden will have to quickly address this problem.

Democrats will soon begin pushing a broad electoral and ethics bill that is seen by many in the party as a counterweight to the voting restrictions Republicans are seeking at the state level. Republican lawmakers have criticized this measure as a federal takeover of the elections, and conservative groups have promised to invest millions to combat it.

This could make ending filibustering the only clear option for approval. Progressives argue that it is a more acceptable option than explaining to voters, including many people of color who fear the new ballot access restrictions, that protecting a Senate procedure is more important than protecting their right to vote.

“This will require presidential leadership,” said Tre Easton, an adviser to the Battle Born Collective, a progressive group trying to end filibustering. “President Biden has to make a decision pretty soon, probably sooner than he would like, on how much he wants to push.”

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New signs of progress emerge on police reform

Congress is under heightened pressure to reach a long-elusive deal on police reform in the wake of Derek Chauvin’s conviction for the murder of George Floyd. 

The conviction, heralded by Democrats and activists as a milestone in the quest for racial justice, immediately shifted attention from the courts to Congress, renewing questions about what bill, if any, could pass the 50-50 Senate, where initial police reform discussions in the wake of Floyd's death unraveled nearly a year ago. 

Democrats believe the verdict has given them new momentum, and behind-the-scenes bipartisan talks have been happening for months, with negotiators hoping to have language in a matter of weeks. 

Sen. Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottChauvin found guilty as nation exhales Lawmakers react to guilty verdict in Chauvin murder trial: 'Our work is far from done' Tim Scott: 'No question' Floyd jury reached 'the right verdict' MORE (R-S.C.), the only Black Senate Republican, said he thought talks were making progress and that Democrats had been “receptive” to certain GOP provisions.  

“I think we are on the verge of wrapping this up in the next week or two, depending on how quickly they respond to our suggestions,” he said. 

Scott has been talking with Rep. Karen BassKaren Ruth BassBlack Caucus: Guilty verdict a 'catalyst' for police reform Bass 'hopeful' on passing police reform: 'Republicans that I am working with are operating in good faith' Sunday shows preview: Russia, US exchange sanctions; tensions over policing rise; vaccination campaign continues MORE (D-Calif.) and Sen. Cory BookerCory BookerChauvin found guilty as nation exhales Lawmakers react to guilty verdict in Chauvin murder trial: 'Our work is far from done' Schumer on 4/20: Bill coming to end federal marijuana prohibition MORE (D-N.J.) about what a potential bill that could pass the Senate would look like. 

Bass, a former head of the Congressional Black Caucus and lead author of the House bill, has pointed to May 25, the one-year anniversary of Floyd’s murder, as an informal deadline for when she would like to have language for a potential agreement. The public attention on the Chauvin trial, she suggested, will lend a boost. 

“I’m very hopeful, it’s the least we could do,” Bass said.

That would give the core group of negotiators roughly a month to try to craft an agreement that has eluded them for almost a year—a herculean effort that could defy the political reality of a divided Washington. 

Biden’s role remains a wildcard. Although the president used the bully pulpit this week to urge Congress to pass reform legislation and will touch on the issue next week during his address to Congress, the White House signaled that he would leave the in-the-weeds negotiations to lawmakers as the administration remains focused on infrastructure. 

“The stage we’re in now is that leaders on the Hill need to have discussions among themselves about where they can find agreement,” White House press secretary Jen PsakiJen PsakiBiden overruled Blinken, top officials on initial refugee cap decision: report Biden watching Derek Chauvin verdict from West Wing Cruz: Biden comments on Chauvin verdict 'grounds for a mistrial' MORE said Wednesday. “The most effective strategy is to allow for space for those conversations to happen privately.” 

The politics surrounding police reform are littered with trip wires, and significant disagreements need ironing out before any deal is achieved. As the last year has demonstrated, even a spate of police-involved killings is no guarantee that the sides can come together on law enforcement reform.

Scott, even as he predicted the talks could wrap relatively quickly, pointed to a handful of outstanding issues: Transferring military-grade equipment to state and local law enforcement; federal chokeholds; no-knock warrants; and qualified immunity, the shield that protects police officers from some lawsuits. 

But in a potential sign of emerging compromise, Scott floated changes to qualified immunity: one that would shift the legal liability in civil suits from individual officers to their police departments. 

In another signal that the sides are getting closer, Democrats are not demanding an end to qualified immunity altogether. 

Bass said there was “a lot of room” around the discussions on the issue. 

“Qualified immunity must be addressed,” Bass said, but added that she wanted both the officer and agency to be held accountable. 

Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinGOP eyes new strategy to derail Biden infrastructure plan White House defends 'aspirational' goal of 62,500 refugees Biden on refugee cap: 'We couldn't do two things at once' MORE (D-Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat and chair of the Judiciary Committee, said that he was in touch with Booker and was “encouraged.” He added that Scott’s proposal on qualified immunity was a “step in the right direction.” 

“Ninety eight percent of all qualified immunity cases are treated that way,” he said. 

Durbin is planning to hold a hearing next month on police reform. And Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerLawmakers react to guilty verdict in Chauvin murder trial: 'Our work is far from done' Overnight Health Care: Johnson & Johnson pause seen as 'responsible' in poll | Women turning out more than men for COVID-19 vaccines 'Real Housewives of the GOP' — Wannabe reality show narcissists commandeer the party MORE (D-N.Y.) vowed that he would prioritize the issue in the wake of the Chauvin verdict. 

“The Senate will continue that work as we strive to ensure that George Floyd’s traffic death will not be in vain. We will not rest until the Senate passes strong legislation to end the systemic racism in law enforcement,” he said. 

Despite the optimistic sounds, there is also plenty of skepticism. 

Sen. Mike BraunMichael BraunTim Scott: 'No question' Floyd jury reached 'the right verdict' Overnight Energy: Biden reportedly will pledge to halve US emissions by 2030 | Ocasio-Cortez, Markey reintroduce Green New Deal resolution 15 Senate Republicans pledge to oppose lifting earmark ban MORE (R-Ind.), one of the GOP senators most willing to make changes last year to a legal shield for police officers, questioned if there was a federal role.

“I think that's going to be very difficult to get bipartisan support on it,” he said, adding, “I almost think it's better off to do this state by state.”

More importantly, while Braun predicted that most Republicans would support Scott’s bill, House Democrats have dismissed that 2020 proposal, characterizing it as woefully inadequate in providing the kinds of protections that would prevent police violence and abuse of power. 

The Scott bill couldn’t get 60 votes in 2020 in a GOP Senate, and would need to be changed to win Democratic support.

The bill would block state and local law enforcement departments from getting COPS and Byrne grants if they do not have a ban on chokeholds in place. It also includes new requirements on reporting the use of force by police and the use of no-knock warrants and includes new penalties for not using body cameras. It would impose new requirements on law enforcement records retention and includes a separate bill that makes lynching a federal hate crime. 

Rep. Marc VeaseyMarc Allison VeaseyOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Native groups hope Haaland's historic confirmation comes with tribal wins | EPA asks court to nix Trump rule limiting GHG regs | Green group asks regulators to block use of utility customers' money for lobbying  Bipartisan lawmakers back carbon capture with new legislation  House Democrats criticize Texas's 'shortcomings in preparations' on winter storms MORE (D-Texas), a member of the Black Caucus, called it “a nothing proposal.” He cited the need for stronger reforms to provide “an extra-layer of protection,” on top of the courts.

“The legislative branch needs to act just like the judiciary acted yesterday,” he said.  

Rep. Barbara LeeBarbara Jean LeeProgressive lawmaker to introduce bill seeking more oversight of Israel assistance Biden sparks bipartisan backlash on Afghanistan withdrawal  Biden funding decision inflames debate over textbooks for Palestinian refugees MORE (D-Calif.), another former head of the Congressional Black Caucus, delivered a similar message, saying the Democrats’ police reform legislation — which has passed through the House twice since Floyd’s murder last May — is “the starting point” for the negotiations. 

That bill, among other provisions, banned chokeholds, carotid holds and no-knock warrants at the federal level, overhauled qualified immunity for police officers and created a national police misconduct registry. Lee acknowledged the difficulty of winning support from Senate Republicans but predicted the national spotlight on Chauvin’s conviction has swung public opinion behind the more robust reforms. 

“The public's got to make them do it. We have hope that the public and their constituents understand that this is badly needed in America. It's time to recognize that no one's above the law — even police officers, when they commit a murder,” Lee said.

“Hopefully after yesterday — maybe, just maybe — they'll see the light.”


Tags Charles Schumer Barbara Lee Dick Durbin Cory Booker Marc Veasey Mike Braun Karen Bass Jen Psaki Tim Scott Chauvin trial police reform Black Lives Matter

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