It was the largest press event at the White House in more than fourteen months.
On Monday, the Biden administration rolled back coronavirus restrictions on the number of reporters be allowed on the White House campus during the day. While briefings are still limited—now to just twenty-four reporters instead of the fourteen we’ve lived with since last April—as of Monday anything held outside on the White House’s North Lawn can be attended by anyone with a press pass.
On Tuesday, President Biden met with George Floyd’s family on the anniversary of Floyd’s murder at the hands of police officer Derek Chauvin. The White House staff anticipated that the family would come outside to talk to reporters after meeting the president—and that prompted more than 70 reporters to wait an hour and a half in the muggy D.C. heat to do so. The cicadas in attendance were low in numbers.
It was a solemn occasion, summed up by a statement from Vice President Kamala Harris:
The verdict finding Derek Chauvin guilty of murder provided some measure of justice. But one verdict does not address the persistent issue of police misconduct and use of excessive force. It does not take away the Floyd family’s pain, nor the pain of all those families who have grieved the untimely loss of a loved one.
Attending were Floyd’s daughter, Gianna; her mother, Roxie Washington; his brothers Philonise, Rodney, and Terrence; his nephew Brandon; some family friends; and a few attorneys, including family attorney Ben Crump.
After meeting with the president for about an hour, the family walked out of the West Wing and greeted reporters. Crump began the press gaggle by praising the president and noting that Biden “wanted to check on them on today of all days to see how they were doing.” Crump then said the family was going to speak with some senators after leaving the White House “to continue to press forward for the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.”
Crump said that the president told the family he was eager to sign the bill into law, but “he said that he doesn’t want to sign a bill that doesn’t have substance and meaning. So he is going to be patient to make sure it’s the right bill, not a rushed bill.”
Some have questioned Biden’s dedication to this bill and whether or not he’s put enough energy in it to get it passed.
But the family expressed appreciation for the president’s efforts. “He’s a genuine guy and just a pleasure to be with him,” Philonise Floyd told us. At that point I hit him with a question: “If I can ask you real quick, is there a message you want the American people to know?”
Philonise Floyd answered: “This is the thing. If you can make federal laws to protect the bird which is the bald eagle, you can make federal laws to protect people of color.”
After members of the family spoke, George Floyd’s young daughter led the family in the chant that many across the nation have taken up while pushing for justice for George Floyd. “Say his name,” she said. The family, friends, and attorneys replied: “George Floyd.”
After the family spoke only one other reporter managed to get a question in—April Ryan of the Grio asked Crump about pushing forward on the legislation. I was later told that the decision to limit the family and their attorney to very few questions came from “way above”—suggesting that the chief of staff or even the president himself were involved in limiting access. Whoever decided to pull the plug made a very shortsighted decision. George Floyd’s family clearly wanted to talk more, and the journalists, including several foreign journalists who attended, wanted to see more of the family.
Perhaps the officials who made the decision were worried that someone would ask an embarrassing question, or perhaps that a reporter the administration doesn’t like would ask an inappropriate or nasty question.
Or perhaps the White House wanted to avoid something else—the question that I posed to Crump as the wranglers broke up the press gaggle: Whether there is, as far as he knows, any GOP or police union support for the legislation written in George Floyd’s name. The truth is that the bill faces an uncertain future, and while the president is hoping for bipartisan support to pass it, there doesn’t seem to be any. The question deserved an answer.
While Biden, according to George Floyd’s family, was caring and wanted to pass the “right bill”—the question remains can he?
The sad fact is that with the current state of, the GOP the “right bill” may never be passed. A year after George Floyd’s death the Republican party has shown it cares little for helping out people of color or moving on serious police reform—and while the Democrats continue to want to do so, they still seem unable to solidly take advantage of the slim majority they hold in the House and the Senate.
Perhaps that’s really why the interaction with the press was limited: The Democrats don’t want us to see how they are struggling. The GOP remains a party without a heart—unwilling to support the common man. The Democrats remain the party without a head—unable to push forward necessary legislation and intent on obtaining bipartisan support that may never come.
George Floyd’s family left the White House in good spirits. Hopefully, they will return before long to witness the president signing into law the bill that bears the name of their lost loved one.
But between the idea and the reality falls the shadow.