Apr 20, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Congress, White House brace for Chauvin verdict

Illustration of the shadow of a gavel over an american flag

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are anxious as the nation awaits the verdict in former police officer Derek Chauvin's trial, fearing a not-guilty decision could exacerbate racial tensions and spark a new wave of riots.

Why it matters: Leaders on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue are trying to figure out how to calibrate any personal or legislative response, while also acknowledging how the final outcome in Chauvin's murder trial in the death of George Floyd could affect their district and them politically.

What we're hearing: Many lawmakers, both from and beyond Minnesota, have spent the weekend watching greater Minneapolis teeter on the brink both over Chauvin's trial and last week's police shooting of Daunte Wright in nearby Brooklyn Center.

  • "I'm very worried," Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union." "I don't think anyone in Minneapolis, frankly, anyone in the United States or over a good part of the world would understand any other verdict other than guilty."
  • Bass, chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, is concerned about parallels to the Rodney King riots that erupted in Los Angeles in 1992, after four white police officers caught on camera beating an unarmed King were acquitted, her spokesperson told Axios.

Aides to other top Democrats tell Axios they see a potential flashpoint not only in the jury's verdict but in any sentencing to follow.

  • "Finding him guilty may not be enough," one senior Democratic aide said.

Meanwhile, Republicans have made Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) a focal point back in D.C.

  • She said in Minnesota last weekend that protesters “need to be more confrontational” if Chauvin is acquitted. She clarified to theGrio on Monday that she was talking about "confronting the justice system, confronting the policing that’s going on, I’m talking about speaking up."
  • House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) tweeted Monday that he will introduce a resolution to censure Waters over her comments.
  • The RNC also sent an email blast attacking Waters, as well other Democrats for defending her. "Democrats are the 'no-more-policing' party," the subject line read. The Republican Study Committee sent a similar email, labeling her "Kerosene Maxine."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi shut down any notion of letting such a measure against Waters pass, telling reporters Monday she doesn't think the congresswoman should apologize.

  • Chauvin's defense attorney, Eric Nelson, complained about the comments after closing arguments, telling the judge: "There's a high probability that members of the jury have seen these comments, heard these comments."
  • Judge Peter Cahill acknowledged the remarks and singled out Waters by name at the trial as he complained about legislators making comments that could affect the operations of a c0-equal branch of government.

This is also a huge moment for President Biden. During a closed-door meeting last week with members of the Congressional Black Caucus, Biden said he was concerned about the potential fallout from the trial.

  • The president is not planning to leave Washington this week and is likely to address the outcome of the trial, CNN reports.
  • Asked on Monday if Biden should address the nation after the verdict, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, a Democrat, said: "I would not be presumptive enough to give the president of the United States advice, but I think it would be helpful.”

Between the lines: The Chauvin trial and Wright's shooting have also led to renewed calls for additional police accountability legislation, both in Minnesota and nationally in Congress.

  • Biden vowed during the 2020 campaign to introduce legislation reforming the country's criminal justice system, but he's left that promise unfulfilled during his first few months in office.
  • The administration instead has focused on gun control measures and signed onto another police reform bill already under consideration in Congress.
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