Washington — New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, a Democrat, said Sunday that the range of policing reforms under consideration from the federal to the local levels "has shifted" as tens of thousands of Americans have called for an end to police brutality and increased accountability for law enforcement.
"We are in a nation right now where the sense of what's possible has shifted," Booker said on "Face the Nation." "The bill that I just did with incredible partners like Kamala Harris and House members, that would have been poison pills just a month ago."
Booker joined House and Senate Democrats last week for the unveiling of a legislative package that implements reforms to policing. The measure was rolled out amid nationwide demonstrations following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in late May. In addition to the Democratic-led package, Republican Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina is spearheading a separate proposal for the GOP-led Senate.
Earlier on "Face the Nation," Scott cautioned against including measures in a police reform package that are opposed by either Republicans or Democrats, as doing so could effectively tank the measure and damage efforts to address racial injustice. For Republicans, a so-called "poison pill" would be limiting qualified immunity for police officers, Scott said.
But Booker criticized aspects of the Republicans' plan for police reforms and said lawmakers should seize the momentum of calls for widespread change.
"Do I want progress? Yes," he said. "But when we stop short and start talking about finding a bill that's the lowest common denominator, it is meaning that we will revisit this again when another unarmed black person gets killed and the nation erupts. We should be seeking to solve the problem, pushing the bounds of the possible and getting as big of a coalition as we possibly can."
While the White House has said that restricting qualified immunity for police would be a nonstarter, Booker noted that some Republicans are supportive of doing so, as is Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who has suggested the high court should it created decades ago.
"When there's so many conservative voices talking about qualified immunity and when we know that no one in America should be above the law, I think it's time that we change qualified immunity," Booker said.
He urged lawmakers to shirk "watered down reforms."
"It's a time to stop the problem, because if someone's knee is on your neck, you can't take it halfway off and say that that's progress," he said. "We have the tools with which to stop people from dying."
The proposal put forth by House Democrats would make it easier to prosecute police officers for misconduct, incentivize state attorneys general to conduct investigations of local police departments and improve transparency on use of force. The measure also bars no-knock warrants in drug cases and police chokeholds, and mandates racial training for police officers.