Tim Scott says ending qualified immunity is "poison pill" in police reform bill

Tim Scott: Ending immunity a "poison pill" in reform bill
Tim Scott: Ending immunity a "poison pill" in... 08:00

Washington — Senator Tim Scott, a Republican from South Carolina, said Sunday that limiting qualified immunity for police officers in future legislation that aims to address officer misconduct would be a "poison pill" for GOP lawmakers and effectively sink the measure.

"From the Republican perspective, and the president has sent a signal that qualified immunity is off the table. They see that as a poison pill on our side," Scott said on "Face the Nation." "We can use the decertification of officers, except for the law enforcement unions say that's a poison pill."

The South Carolina senator said it's critical for Congress to "find a path that helps us reduce misconduct within" police forces while eliminating any proposals that would prevent legislation from passing both chambers.

"We know that any poison pill in legislation means we get nothing done," he said. "That sends the wrong signal, perhaps the worst signal, right now in America."

Congress has begun working on legislation that reforms policing following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last month, which led to protests nationwide.

Scott is spearheading efforts for the GOP-led Senate, and he laid out potential reforms to his Republican colleagues last week, including boosting the reporting of uses of force that cause death or serious injury to the FBI, tying federal funding to required training on de-escalation tactics and increasing funding for body cameras.

In addition to the Republican efforts in the Senate, House Democrats last week unveiled their own police reform package.

Some in Congress are pushing to limit qualified immunity for police officers in a legislative package. Created by the Supreme Court decades ago, the legal doctrine largely shields law enforcement and other government officials from liability for conduct unless they violate "clearly established" constitutional rights.

But the White House has said reducing immunity for law enforcement is a "nonstarter."

Scott said there is a way to ensure officers who engage in egregious misconduct are held accountable, and said he is interested in decertification, though the senator acknowledged "that is a path that has got a roadblock" because of Democratic opposition.

"Qualified immunity really is like a quagmire pit of opportunities," he said, adding that limiting it could lead to a reduction in the size of police forces. "If we do it right, I think we can reduce the number of times that we're dealing with misconduct on the police departments. If we don't do it right, then we'll have the same situation where there is no law. We can do better than that as a nation and we will."

Scott said he believes that in examining racial outcomes in policing, "there is a nexus to race" in some instances.

"There's no question that the outcomes seem to have a racial component and that's why we're working on getting all the information, then retraining and then eliminating those police officers that have a pattern of misbehavior," he said. "If we can do those three things, America will be better and our streets will be safer for the suspect, the officer, and the community at large."

The South Carolina Republican also addressed President Trump's decision to move a campaign rally scheduled for June 19 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to the following day. Mr. Trump and his reelection campaign came under criticism for the event, as it was set to occur on the day commemorating the end of slavery in the U.S., known as Juneteenth, and in a location that was the site of the single deadliest act of racial violence in U.S. history, the Greenwood Massacre.

"I'm not sure the planners on his inner-circle team thought about June 19, Tulsa, Oklahoma, and race riots," he said. "Unless you're doing a historical check, you probably don't get those dots connected."

Scott said it was "good news" the president rescheduled his rally and said "diversity on our staff helps us avoid some of the pitfalls."