WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump plans to take executive action Tuesday that would provide new federal funding incentives for local police departments to beef up training over the use of force and strengthen a national database to track misconduct, according to senior administration officials.
Trump’s order, the product of collaboration with law enforcement groups and families of suspects killed by police, aims to address the mass protests over police brutality that have convulsed American cities. Yet even as the president described his measures as “pretty comprehensive,” they are expected to fall far short of the kind of sweeping changes that activists from Black Lives Matter and other social justice groups have demanded – such as significantly reducing funding for police departments and directing the money to social programs.
Administration officials emphasized that Trump’s approach would instead seek to leverage federal grant money to encourage local departments to bolster training and certification around a set of national “best practices.” Departments that pursue such goals would move to the front of the line for the grant funding and “you don’t necessarily have to demonize them or withdraw funds,” said a senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to brief reporters before Trump’s announcement.
“The overall goal is we want law and order, and we want it done fairly, justly – we want it done safely,” Trump said at the White House on Monday. “It’s about law and order, but it’s about justice, also.”
Aides said the executive action is the result of months of deliberation by a policing commission Trump established in late December, well before the killing of George Floyd, the black man whose death three weeks ago at the hands of Minneapolis police led to protests across the nation. Trump intends to use a White House event Tuesday to call on Congress to pass legislation, but he felt compelled to act to “turn the anger in the country now into action and hopefully bring some unification and some healing,” another administration official said on the briefing call.
Yet Trump has contributed to the deep divisions in the nation in the wake of Floyd’s death by emphasizing the need to establish “law and order” and painting many of the protesters as violent looters and vandals who have committed acts of “domestic terror.” His call for governors to “dominate” public streets with a show of force and threats to dispatch the U.S. military to subdue the protests initially sparked larger demonstrations in some cities, which have since tapered off.
On Monday, Trump called the death of Rayshard Brooks – who was shot and killed Friday night by police in Atlanta while running away after a scuffle with officers – “very disturbing” and a “terrible situation.” Brooks’s killing led to a new round of protests in that city.
But Trump spent more time denouncing the takeover of several city blocks in Seattle by protesters who have sealed off streets as local police officers abandoned a precinct. Trump lambasted Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, both Democrats, and threatened federal action if they failed to “do the job.”
“The governor has to call out the troops, call out the National Guard, has to do something,” Trump said. “The problem about what is happening in Seattle is that it spreads to other cities. We’re not going to let it happen.”
Trump said he has discussed the situation with Attorney General William Barr, but he declined to specify what steps his administration might take.
Of his pending executive action, the president said he intends to make the announcement at a news conference, in which he is likely to be joined by law enforcement officials, as well as family members of people who have been killed by police.
“We need great people in police departments,” Trump said. “We have mostly great people, but we will do better, even better, and we’re going to try to do it fast.”
The pending executive action comes as Republican congressional leaders signaled Monday that legislative changes to police practices could slip beyond this month. Senate Majority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., the No. 2 GOP leader in the chamber, said it was “probably unlikely” that the Senate takes up the police package before the July 4 recess.
“We could have a vote between now and the Fourth of July, but I think that would almost certainly indicate some side-by-side vote where nobody expects to win,” said Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., another member of Republican leadership. “Realistically, in my view, it would take longer than that to reach a conclusion.”
The Senate GOP package, primarily drafted by Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., is expected to be released later this week. Although it is not expected to explicitly bar the use of chokeholds, like the House Democratic plan would, it attempts to discourage the practice by withholding federal funds to police agencies that allow them, according to two Senate GOP officials who spoke anonymously to describe legislation that is not yet public.
Scott, the Senate’s lone black Republican, said it would be a “bad decision” to wait until next month to deliberate on a legislative package and added that he spoke with Trump on Sunday evening about his own draft legislation.
“He’s going to want to see all the details, like everybody else,” Scott said.
The House Democrats’ plan also would establish a national database to track police misconduct and prohibit certain no-knock warrants. The bill, which has more than 200 Democratic co-sponsors, contains several provisions that would make it easier to hold officers accountable for misconduct in civil and criminal court.
The House Judiciary Committee meets Wednesday to work on the bill.
Trump aides emphasized that the president remains opposed to any legislation that would end qualified immunity for police officers.
“Our conference is developing a serious proposal to reform law enforcement in smart ways without lashing out needlessly and counterproductively at the first responders who are a credit to their communities,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Monday afternoon on the Senate floor.
The Senate Judiciary Committee also has scheduled a hearing for Tuesday afternoon with law enforcement, legal experts and government officials.
Trump administration officials did not specify how much federal money could be tied to police training legislation, and they suggested it could be up to Congress to provide additional funding to help create new programs that Trump will outline Tuesday. Among them is a “co-responder program” that would help pair local police with mental health experts to respond more holistically to reports of crime in communities and in dealing with suspects.
Asked how the president envisioned getting around potential objections from police unions, the first administration official acknowledged that the executive action would hinge on cooperation from mayors and other local officials.
“The federal government can only do so much,” the official said.
In a statement, the National Fraternal Order of Police said it had reviewed a draft of Trump’s executive action and found that it “strikes a great balance between the vital need for public and officer safety, and the equally vital need for lasting, meaningful, and enforceable police reform.”
The Washington Post’s Seung Min Kim, Mark Berman and Donna Cassata contributed to this report.