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Rep. Clyburn says qualified immunity doesn’t have to be part of policing reform bill

House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.) at a news conference on Feb. 26. (Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg News)

House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.) suggested Sunday that he would be willing to support policing reform legislation even if it did not end qualified immunity, the legal doctrine that shields individual officers from lawsuits.

“I will never sacrifice good on the altar of perfect. I just won’t do that,” Clyburn said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“I know what the perfect bill will be. We have proposed that. I want to see good legislation. And I know that, sometimes, you have to compromise. … If we don’t get qualified immunity now, then we will come back and try to get it later. But I don’t want to see us throw out a good bill because we can’t get a perfect bill,” he said.

Clyburn’s remarks were a departure from members of his own party who, along with civil rights activists, have pushed for the doctrine to be eliminated or changed. Qualified immunity has become the biggest sticking point in negotiations on police reform legislation between Democrats and Republicans, who have proposed preserving qualified immunity for individual officers and instead holding local governments liable when officers harm people.

Clyburn on Sunday briefly shifted the focus to the importance of improving officer recruitment.

“I have been saying from the beginning we have well-trained police officers. We have got to do a better job of recruiting police officers. We have got to get good people. No matter how good the training, if you don’t have good people, the training does no good,” he told “State of the Union” host Jake Tapper. “Now, the problem we have got now is that there are some bad apples in policing. We have seen it in our living rooms. We know it’s still there. We have got to root out the bad apples, and let’s go forward with a good, solid program.”

In March, the House passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, an overhaul of police practices that would ban the use of chokeholds, strengthen federal civil rights laws, create a national database to track officer misconduct and end qualified immunity, making it easier for officers to be sued for their actions in the line of duty. The legislation has failed to advance in the Senate.

President Biden called for policing reform after the murder of George Floyd during an address to a joint session of Congress on April 28. (Video: The Washington Post)

President Biden has called for action on the legislation by May 25, the first anniversary of the murder of Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.

Since then, a bipartisan group of lawmakers has sought to reach a deal. A recent meeting included Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) and Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), as well as Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.).

Afterward, many confirmed that qualified immunity, as well as whether the standard for federal civil rights prosecutions of officers should be lowered, remained the key sticking points that have kept the Senate from taking up the legislation. However, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle struck an upbeat note.

“I listened to Karen, I listened to Cory, they listened to me,” Scott said then. “I think we are still making progress. … Nothing happened in the meeting that deters me from being optimistic that we can get there.”

Mike DeBonis contributed to this report.

On April 25, Politicians on both sides of the aisle discussed how policing should change after Derek Chauvin was declared guilty of murdering George Floyd. (Video: Blair Guild/The Washington Post)