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Politics chat: Will Congress consider police reform?

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

President Biden yesterday issued a statement of condolence to the family of Tyre Nichols, as well as the Memphis community. He talked about delivering change and accountability, as well as the need to, quote, "advance meaningful reforms." But what exactly does that mean? And is it an actual deliverable at this point? We're joined now by NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Good morning, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Ayesha.

RASCOE: So, you know, here we are again, another horrific, senseless killing at the hands of the police. There's talk of reform, but are there even bills being pushed through Congress for the president to potentially sign?

LIASSON: Well, the short answer to that question is no. And remember, after the last horrific videotaped killing of a Black man at the hands of the police, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act was not passed. It passed the Democratic House. It was blocked in the Senate by Republicans. It would have, at the federal level, banned chokeholds and made federal funding for state and local law enforcement conditional on those agencies banning those practices. It would have given more money to police departments for training. It would do the opposite of defunding the police, which is something that Joe Biden is against. But it would have improved community mental health outreach. And it didn't go anywhere.

RASCOE: OK. So after that last major effort, you know, we heard on this from the House Democrats was back in 2021, is there anything new on the horizon?

LIASSON: Well, there's nothing new on the horizon in Congress, but after every one of these incidents, there's always pressure to do something. It's possible that Joe Biden could issue some executive orders, but it's going to be up to states and municipalities to do something. And you could argue that Memphis actually did something. They fired the police officers within two weeks. They charged them. They released the video very quickly. That is different than the behavior of other police departments in the past after incidences like this. But it's also true that representation alone does not stop these things from happening. Memphis has a Black female police chief. Fifty-eight percent of the police officers in Memphis are Black in a 65% Black population city. So this is a much bigger problem. It's about the culture of policing, and it's about all the things that they're kind of - they're not trained in the official training sessions. But that's - it's a culture that's going to be harder to change.

RASCOE: In the past, we - you know, there have been a series of mass shootings in California - the Monterey Park Lunar New Year shooting that left 11 dead, shooting at Half Moon Bay that left seven dead. There was another one Saturday morning in Los Angeles where at least three people were killed. Is there any appetite for gun control legislation at this point? And we have about a minute left.

LIASSON: Yeah. Well, gun control is a different issue, but unfortunately, the answer is the same. There's very little appetite in Congress for it because there was a gun safety measure passed in the last Congress. It was actually the strongest gun safety measure in the last 30 years. It was a modest reform, but it was still a huge lift for Congress. Now, with a Republican majority in the House and a Democratic majority in the Senate, it's hard to see how you could get any more gun safety legislation through Congress in a bipartisan way. The other problem is that even in states with strict gun laws like California, there's so many guns out there. It's so easy to get semi-automatic weapons which kill large numbers of people in a very short period of time, like in Monterey. This is a country awash in guns, something like 125 firearms per 100 residents. So it's hard to control access to them or even to enforce the laws that are meant to prevent mass shootings.

RASCOE: That's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Thank you, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.