WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden marked the first anniversary of George Floyd's murder Tuesday with a private Oval Office meeting with members of Floyd's family as congressional negotiators seek a deal on a bill named after Floyd aimed at reforming policing practices across the nation.
Biden said last month he hoped to mark the solemn occasion by signing the policing bill, but the legislation remains stalled in the Senate as Republicans and Democrats try to hammer out a compromise on its provisions. White House officials have said they hope the meeting Tuesday will keep the momentum going.
"We have to act," Biden said in a statement following the meeting. "We face an inflection point. The battle for the soul of America has been a constant push and pull between the American ideal that we’re all created equal and the harsh reality that racism has long torn us apart. At our best, the American ideal wins out."
Biden met with the Floyd family shortly after the killing, when he was a presidential candidate, and has spoke multiple times with them, including in a call moments after a former Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, was found guilty last month of Floyd's murder. Biden has talked about how he was personally affected by the killing and the widespread demonstrations calling for police reform and an end to systemic racism.
Floyd’s daughter and her mother, his siblings and several other relatives were in attendance at the meeting. Biden said the Floyd family "has shown extraordinary courage, especially his young daughter Gianna, who I met again today."
Later, speaking to reporters on his way to Wilmington, Delaware, Biden said Gianna gave him a big hug, said she was hungry and asked for a snack. The White House gave her ice cream, Cheetos and chocolate milk, the president said.
"Being here today is an honor," said George Floyd's brother Terrence Floyd. "To meet with the president and the vice president and for them to show their concern to our family and for them to actually give an ear to our concerns and how we feel on the situation, I feel it was a very productive conversation, and I'm grateful for it."
Earlier Tuesday, members of the Floyd family met with a number of lawmakers, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif.
The family, along with lawyer Ben Crump, then returned to Capitol Hill for a meeting with Sens. Tim Scott, R-S.C., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., before a separate conversation with Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.
Bass, Scott and Booker are leading bipartisan, bicameral negotiations on the reform bill.
“We are optimistic," Crump said, leaving Scott's office. "Both Sen. Scott and Sen. Graham talked to the family for over an hour, talking about how they’re making progress, how both sides of the aisle are at the table and they’re trying to define specific terms because they feel like they are close, the closest they’ve ever been.”
Scott, who is the only Black Republican senator, told reporters Tuesday afternoon he was encouraged by the family's input and reiterated that progress was being made.
Booker, after his meeting with the family, cautioned that while he was encouraged, he still sees "a ways to go" before a deal.
"I would say still some weeks to go, but the progress is so promising," Booker told reporters. "I think Sen. Scott, myself, Karen Bass all believe that this is more likely to get done than not.”
"This is going to make meaningful progress, not get us all the way to where we need to go," he added.
The bill's current form, already passed by the Democratic-controlled House, would bar the use of chokeholds, ban no-knock warrants in federal drug cases and create a national police misconduct registry.
The sticking point in negotiations has been a legal doctrine called qualified immunity, which makes it difficult to sue individual officers. However, negotiators have signaled that ending qualified immunity entirely is unlikely.
The White House, meanwhile, has said it will defer to Congress on timing, which Booker said Tuesday would take "weeks, not months."
"The president is still very much hopeful that he will be able to sign the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act into law," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday. "And we are of course very closely engaged with the negotiators while also leaving them room to work."