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Missouri Senator Roy Blunt On Possible Ways To Improve Policing In The U.S.


Today George Floyd's family memorialized him in a private ceremony after days of public remembrances around the country. Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis, and moves are afoot here in Washington on Capitol Hill to change the laws to try to prevent killings like this from happening again. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced today that Tim Scott of South Carolina - Scott is the Senate's only black Republican - that he will head up a working group to present proposals to address obvious racial discrimination in policing.

Next, we are joined by Roy Blunt of Missouri, one of the top GOP leaders in the Senate. Senator, welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

ROY BLUNT: Hi, Mary Louise. Nice to be with you again.

KELLY: Nice to have you with us. Senator Scott has floated the possibility of a national police commission to look at best practices, and then I mentioned the working group he's now going to head up - both of which sound worthwhile, important but maybe not urgent. And I want to start there. Are commissions, are working groups an adequate response to a movement that is demanding real change and demanding it now?

BLUNT: Well, I think generally almost anything you do by legislation that is likely to wind up on the president's desk is going to take a while and not address the immediate problem of a department that has a history or appears to have just a systematic problem with constitutional rights or abuse of various kinds. I think - doesn't mean we shouldn't move forward with those things, but what I've been looking for is the tool that would be most easily available and most quickly respond to a problem that a department has and help solve that individual problem rather than try to have the long-term view of we're going to change policing around the country. We can do that, but that's going to take more time than I think we have in some of these specific circumstances that we see happening in the country today.

KELLY: Do you see a path in the Senate for the bill that Democrats have introduced in the House which would do some specific things, like banning chokeholds or making it easier for people to sue the police and so on?

BLUNT: You know, I think - I think there's a way for some of that to have a pathway in the House, to have part of a bill that Tim Scott would be leading to put together. I had him speak at the policy lunch today that I chair. We had a lot of interest in the proposals he was making. I actually did think that the House proposal stayed more focused on police reform than I thought it might. I thought that proposal might go into a lot of long-term education and mental health and other issues we need to be focused on. But they did stay in the police reform lane, and that probably makes it easier to look at parts of that bill.

I do think you have to be really careful in things like - like limited immunity, that you don't make it impossible for police to do their job. And we have to remember that, you know, close to a hundred percent of the police in the country are out there doing a great job every day. And you don't want to make it harder for them to do their job. But you do want to be sure that we're solving a problem that clearly creates two different views in America of what a police department is all about. And I think we need to stay very focused on that.

KELLY: You're talking about limited immunity, which, as I noted, is this effort with - that Democrats would like to push forward to make it easier for people to sue the police. I gather this is not something that a lot of Republicans are behind. And President Trump's press secretary has said he would not support ending or reducing qualified or limited immunity.

I want to ask about something else that Republicans do not seem to be behind, and that is banning chokeholds. Attorney General Barr said on Fox last night that he supports it except when police are facing potentially lethal force. Sen. Scott said today that he does not think Republican legislation is likely to include a full ban. What - why are Republicans not interested in banning this tactic?

BLUNT: Well, you got to remember that police are going into situations that are dangerous by - by definition most of the time. To begin to try to tell a officer what they can do to protect themselves in a situation that they have an (ph) - no idea what's about to happen is a real challenge.

KELLY: Right. We will leave it there. We hope to have you back to continue this conversation.

Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, thank you.

BLUNT: Great to talk to you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.