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Biden plans executive action on police reform to revive stalled issue

U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the administration’s coronavirus disease (COVID-19) surge response in the South Court Auditorium at the White House in Washington, U.S., January 13, 2022.
Kevin Lamarque | Reuters

President Joe Biden is planning to sign executive actions on police reform as early as this month, three people familiar with the plans said, as his administration seeks to unilaterally jumpstart an issue that’s a top priority for a key constituency.

The executive actions would follow Biden’s uphill battle to advance voting rights legislation, and could coincide with a similar effort by some Democratic lawmakers to revive the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which stalled on Capitol Hill after failed attempts to craft a bipartisan measure.

The focus on police reforms is part of what appears to be a last-ditch effort by the Biden administration to take action on some of the president’s signature initiatives in the run-up to his State of the Union Address on March 1. In addition to voting rights and policing, the White House and congressional Democrats are considering ways to resurrect Biden’s Build Back Better package, either by paring back the legislation or separating it into two bills, according to three sources familiar with the discussions.

The executive actions on policing are still being finalized, according to the people familiar with the plans. They did not know how the actions would differ from steps taken by the Justice Department last year when it imposed new restrictions on chokeholds and “no-knock” warrants.

Two people familiar with the discussions said the White House could roll out the executive actions to mark the beginning of Black History Month in February.

Biden also is expected to use the moment to criticize former President Donald Trump, the people familiar with the discussions said. The president was sharply critical of Trump during a Jan. 6 anniversary speech and again on Tuesday while giving remarks on voting rights.

The White House’s decision to start 2022 with major pushes for voting rights and police reform comes as Biden’s support among Black voters, a voting bloc key to both his primary and general election success, appears to be at an all-time low. A new Quinnipiac poll found that 57 percent of Black voters approved of the president’s job performance – down significantly from 78 percent in April, and in territory that could imperil Democrats’ chances of keeping control of the House and Senate in the November midterm elections.

The White House held back on police reform executive actions in 2021 out of concern that such moves could upend bipartisan negotiations in Congress on the issue. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday, “I think there’s a recognition and a commitment by the president to deliver on what he promised.”

Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), whose support was crucial to Biden winning the Democratic nomination, is among those who have been urging the president both publicly and privately not to forget his promise upon winning the White House to have Black voters’ backs. Clyburn told NBC News that he pushed Biden particularly to show new urgency on voting rights, even if it means being more aggressive with fellow Democrats, when they traveled together to South Carolina last month.

“What he’s got to understand is that he’s no longer a senator. He’s now president. And he’s got to be able to say to some of these senators, ‘I know there’s some things that you’d like to have my help on but let me tell you up front: I need your help too,'” Clyburn said.

Clyburn, the No. 3 Democrat in the House, said he had not heard about potential executive actions on police reform, but said he and other lawmakers were developing a strategy to force the issue by potentially attaching the George Floyd measure to “must-pass” legislation like government funding bills.

Biden’s renewed focus on voting rights, followed by expected action on police reform, is also buying the White House and congressional Democrats some time to figure out a way forward on Build Back Better, the president’s social safety net and climate bill, after internal party talks collapsed in late December.

Rep. Richard Neal, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said discussions are stalled as Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., continues to oppose the bill.

“We’re all familiar with what Joe doesn’t want and we’re less familiar with what he wants,” Neal said.

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