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Biden to call for congressional action on guns, police misconduct

White House says the president will use the State of the Union address to renew a push for legislation and funding around criminal justice

President Joe Biden delivers remarks in August on his "Safer America Plan," intended to reduce gun crime, in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.
President Joe Biden delivers remarks in August on his "Safer America Plan," intended to reduce gun crime, in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. (Mostafa Bassim/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

President Joe Biden plans to use his State of the Union address Tuesday night to renew calls for Congress to use legislation and funding to address gun violence, criminal justice and police misconduct.

Biden will again ask for legislation that aims to make broad changes to policing policy, according to a White House fact sheet released ahead of the speech. The Democrat-led House passed that bill last Congress, but the effort stalled in the Senate in 2021 after months of negotiations.

“Real change at the state and local level requires Congressional action,” the White House said.

And Biden, although he signed a gun control law last year, will keep taking actions until Congress requires background checks for all gun sales, requires safe storage of firearms and bans assault weapons and high-capacity weapons, the White House said.

Biden will also tout his “Safer America Plan,” which includes funds for 100,000 additional police officers “who will be recruited, trained, hired, and supervised” to enhance trust and public safety, the fact sheet said.

That plan also includes a call for Congress to “end once and for all the racially discriminatory sentencing disparity between crack cocaine and powder cocaine offenses,” as well as invest $15 billion in services that help prevent crime from occurring in the first place, the White House said.

That would include mental health and substance abuse services and other social programs, changes to prison sentences and removal of almost all federal restrictions for people with prior convictions on eligibility for vital benefits such as food, income and disability-based assistance, the White House said.

To make those points, guests in the first lady’s box will include Brandon Tsay, who last month stopped a gunman in Monterey Park, Calif., and RowVaughn and Rodney Wells, the mother and stepfather of Tyre Nichols.

Graphic footage released last month showed officers in Memphis, Tenn., following a traffic stop, beating Nichols, 29. He later died. A group of five officers, all Black, were fired and have been charged with second-degree murder in his death.

“A young Black man should not have to fear for his life when stopped for an alleged traffic violation. And no one should have to put their life on the line to stop a mass shooter,” the White House fact sheet said.

Legislative outlook

The State of the Union address will come days after Biden met with members of the Congressional Black Caucus about policing overhaul legislation.

Rep. Steven Horsford, the Nevada Democrat who chairs the CBC, said he invited RowVaughn and Rodney Wells as his guests to the speech.

“It is imperative that we tackle this issue with legislative solutions, with executive actions and community-based solutions that work,” Horsford said at a press conference Tuesday.

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York said he expects Biden to talk about safer communities, strengthening police-community relations and “making sure that there is accountability.”

“Strengthening the relationship between the police and communities all across America should be an American issue that both sides of the aisle, both sides of the Capitol, should lean into,” the Democratic lawmaker said at a press conference Tuesday.

There are ongoing conversations on the issue being led by the CBC, as well as members of the Senate, Jeffries said. Hopefully, he said, lawmakers will be able to act to address concerns with police violence.

The push for changes will find an uphill battle in the Republican-controlled House. Last week, Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said during an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” “I don’t know that there’s any law that can stop that evil that we saw” in Memphis.

Republican members have emphasized support for law enforcement in their approach to the State of the Union. At a press conference Tuesday, Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., said “Joe Biden has caused a crisis in America” and that the president “makes our nation less safe with his far-left policies.”

Stefanik, chair of the Republican Conference, plans to bring a local sheriff as a guest to the speech, as do several other Republicans.

When a Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd in 2020, it set off a wave of protests across the country and rocketed the issue of police violence to prominence in Congress.

The House-passed legislation, titled the “George Floyd Justice in Policing Act,” among other measures, would have ended the immunity most police have against civil suits, banned chokeholds, limited no-knock warrants and created a national registry of police misconduct.

The bill passed on a mostly party-line 220-212 vote in March 2021, and the Senate took no action on the bill.

Last week, the lead Senate negotiator on policing bills, Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., tweeted that “resurrecting” that legislation is a “non-starter.” Although Democrats control the Senate with 51 seats, any policing legislation would require the support of at least nine Republicans to advance in the chamber.

“I’ve been working toward common ground solutions that actually have a shot at passing. Solutions to increase funding and training to make sure only the best wear the badge. Solutions that would have made a difference in places like Memphis & Kenosha,” Scott said.

Last year, Biden signed an executive order focused on federal law enforcement that created a federal database for police misconduct and limited chokeholds and no-knock warrants. That order did not apply to the thousands of local and state law enforcement agencies that could be targeted under congressional legislation.

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