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Virtually all parties involved are okay with missing the deadline. Lawmakers working on the bill insist that they’re making progress and regularly engage with one another. And in conversations with the White House, activists and lawmakers have stressed that they want a substantial bill, not a quick one.

“My concern is, and I’ve communicated this to the White House, is that we come with a toothless bill to meet a hard deadline,” said Rev. Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network. “I’d rather have a bill with teeth late than a toothless bill on time.”

Biden’s defer-to-Congress approach on police reform stands in contrast to the very active role he and the administration are playing in negotiating other legislative priorities, chief among them a massive infrastructure spending bill. Stakeholders say it reflects a larger sense that negotiations around policing and racial justice can be extremely delicate. Push too much, and Republicans may recoil. Sit back too far, and progress may prove elusive.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said this week that Biden issued the May 25 deadline because he felt it was “important to be bold and be ambitious.” But the White House acknowledged by week’s end that negotiations are nowhere near a conclusion.

“We are not going to slow our efforts to get this done, but we can also be transparent about the fact that it’s going to take a little bit more time,” Psaki said Friday. “The president wants to sign it into law as quickly as possible.”

Civil rights groups mostly support the administration’s approach but plan to keep pressure on Congress. The White House has not said if it will set another deadline. For Sharpton, however, the president’s challenge to lawmakers last month “sent the signal that it was serious” about reform. Though he’d like to see Biden publicly pressing the case more, Sharpton also doesn’t want Biden to play into Republicans’ hands. “I’d not like this to be a Joe Biden-Mitch McConnell show,” he said.

Most social justice advocates are giving the Biden administration and Democrats space to make good on their campaign promise to pass a bill that could substantially overhaul policing in the country. They want action as more and more videos are released showing Black people killed by police but aren’t looking for speed over results. As negotiations continue amongst a small group of House and Senate lawmakers, civil rights organizers are making clear that a watered down bill is not an option.

“Presidents say a lot of things in their joint addresses and their state of the unions,” said Maurice Mitchell, national director of the progressive Working Families Party and a leader in the Movement for Black Lives coalition. But, Mitchell added the “proof” will ultimately be in what Biden and Democrats “behind closed doors are willing to spend political capital on.”

When Biden took office “there was a great fanfare” about Black women being the backbone of the Democratic Party “and the fact that the black community agenda would not be ignored” but taken “seriously,” said Mitchell. “Well, they need to demonstrate that.”

Current talks among congressional negotiators have been held up over key provisions, including one in the House-passed bill that would end qualified immunity, a judicial doctrine that shields police officers from being sued by victims and their families for alleged civil rights violations. Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) proposed a workaround: allow people to sue police departments rather than officers. But most civil rights groups have yet to take a position on Scott’s counter offer, saying they want to see specific language.

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There’s a “three-legged stool of accountability measures” — qualified immunity, a national registry of police misconduct and changing the intent standard to prosecute police officers — that civil rights groups absolutely want in any final bill, said Lisa Cylar Barrett, policy director for NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

Black Lives Matter activists largely believe the House bill, which is named after Floyd, doesn’t go far enough. But the one part of the bill that most advocates agreed on was ending or reforming qualified immunity. Mitchell said the continued hold up around the qualified immunity reform language — which is staunchly opposed by police unions — “demonstrates why it’s so important for Joe Biden and elected Democrats not to let up.”

Despite recent comments from House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn that he’d support a final bill that excluded changes to the qualified immunity protections for officers, many Democrats don’t want to give up on changing that doctrine — fearing that this is their one chance at substantive reform.

In a letter sent Friday, 10 progressive House members urged House and Senate leadership to ensure the final bill eliminates qualified immunity.

“We are concerned by recent discussions that the provision ending qualified immunity for local, state, and federal law enforcement may be removed in order to strike a bipartisan deal in the Senate,” wrote the lawmakers, led by Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) and Cori Bush (D-Mo.). “Given that police violence, as a weapon of structural racism, continues to have devastating and deadly consequences for Black and brown lives across our country, we strongly urge you to not only maintain but strengthen the provision eliminating qualified immunity as negotiations in the Senate continue.”

Though Congress is taking the lead on crafting the bill, White House director of public engagement, Cedric Richmond, Domestic Policy Council head Susan Rice, and director of legislative affairs, Louisa Terrell have hosted talks with staffers and lawmakers. Top Hill negotiators have provided little details on how much progress they’ve made, but one key difference compared to the Trump-era, they say, is that there are now regular conversations.

Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), one of the chief negotiators, told reporters this week that “the most important thing is that we have a bill that hits the president’s desk, not the date that it does.”

When asked about White House involvement, Scott said, “I’ve never found it helpful to negotiate with anybody other than those that have votes.”

Nicholas Wu contributed reporting.

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Crime

Joe Biden: “Police Chief Murray…Excuse Me, Police Chief Mary, Police Chief Murphy Paul”

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President Joe Biden said, “Police Chief Murray…excuse me, Police Chief Mary, Police Chief Murphy Paul,” during remarks he delivered at the White House on guns and the rise in crime on 6/23/2021.

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Critical Race Theory

General’s response to Matt Gaetz leaves him shaking his head

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The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, says he wants to know what caused the January 6th insurrection and fired back at Rep. Matt Gaetz’s (R-FL) question about critical race theory.

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New Jersey lawmakers advance $46.4B budget minutes after making it public

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It totals $1.6 billion more than the $44.8 billion spending plan Murphy proposed in February, buoyed in large part by billions of dollars in better-than-expected revenues, and more than $4 billion Democrats who control the Legislature agreed to borrow last fall. There’s also $6.2 billion the state received from the most recent federal stimulus package.

Republican lawmakers fumed that they were shut out of the process, and complained they didn’t see the budget bills until the last minute.

“There has been such a rush and no transparency on this that we’re going to either vote no or abstain on these budget bills. There’s no way, physically, anybody could have read these or gone through them,” said Assemblymember Hal Wirths (R-Sussex), a member of his chamber’s budget committee. “I know sausage-making is ugly, but I’m not going to partake in it today.”

Democratic lawmakers negotiated the spending plan behind closed doors, and details were released piecemeal on Monday through joint statements issued by Murphy, Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin. The full spending plan wasn’t made available until late Tuesday afternoon, shortly before Democratic lawmakers vote it out of committee.

The Assembly Budget committee advanced the bill, 5-4; the Senate Budget Committee cleared it, 8-3.

The Senate committee considered dozens of bills Tuesday —  including a number pertaining to the budget — that were introduced on a rolling basis during the marathon meeting.

That process led to confusion, with committee Chair Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen) repeatedly calling up bills that weren’t yet available for review. At one point, his committee approved legislation that appropriates nearly $115 million of lapsed funds from the current fiscal year budget, even though text of the bill wasn’t publicly available.

“Every year, you guys say it wasn’t transparent enough. But I believe it w as no different than any other year,” Sarlo told reporters after his committee adjourned, later explaining away the $115 million bill by saying, “it’s no different from any supplemental appropriation that has gone on for the last 30 years down here.”

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Based on the lofty bar set by previous cycles, the 2022 fiscal year budget is running ahead of schedule. With Murphy and all 120-seats in the Legislature on the ballot in November, there’s little chance of midnight negotiating sessions and last-minute requests for special appropriations from individual lawmakers that will risk a government shutdown.

And unlike the previous years, New Jersey has money to spend for FY 2022, with $5.2 billion in better-than-expected revenues as well as the federal stimulus money.

Murphy has the authority to line-item veto certain spending or reject the budget in its entirety, but that’s unlikely to happen this year as both sides have already reached agreement.

The budget must be in place by midnight June 30.

Democrats defended this year’s budget for what it includes, such as the massive contribution to the pension system, prioritizing the debt and investing in in special education and health care.

Some of the top line items include: $500 million for rental assistance, $250 million for utility relief, $180 million for HVAC improvements to schools and $100 million to help reopen child care centers.

“These are priorities that care for those who are most in need,” Assembly Budget Committee member John McKeon (D-Essex) said before “proudly“ voting yes. “I think this is just an amazing budget and the product of the collective efforts of leadership, the governor and the values that we all stand for.“

Assemblymember Serena DiMaso (R-Monmouth) read through the budget score sheet, questioning certain appropriations: “Hoboken Community Center, a million dollars. Highland Park, another 750,000 dollars. My favorite is the spotted lantern fly, which gets 515,000 dollars “My question is, who wants this stuff?” she said. “And why doesn’t the public know who asked for this money to be put aside for these things? Some of them sound like George Costanza made them up.”

The Senate committee took several breaks to regroup as GOP members scrambled to mount opposition to major bills they’d barely seen, or hadn’t seen at all. As the committee hearing crept into its third hour, Sarlo began reading off text of NJ S4000 (20R), which would appropriate $3.7 billion to a “New Jersey Debt Defeasance and Prevention Fund,” before it was distributed to members.

“This is no way to run an asylum,” state Sen. Declan O’Scanlon (R-Monmouth) said.

The committee promptly took a recess.

“It reeks of Nancy Pelosi, we have to pass it to find out what’s in it,” state Sen. Mike Testa (R-Cumberland) told legislative staff as he went into the break.

Daniel Han contributed to this report.

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