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Guilty verdict in murder of George Floyd was an answer to Biden's prayers

President Joe Biden, with Vice President Kamala Harris,

President Joe Biden, with Vice President Kamala Harris, speaks Tuesday after a jury found ex-cop Derek Chauvin guilty in the killing of George Floyd. Credit: AP / Evan Vucci

Biden: Blinders to racism ripped away

While the jury deciding former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin's fate was still out, President Joe Biden said Tuesday morning, "I'm praying the verdict is the right verdict." He called the evidence in the killing of George Floyd "overwhelming." Recognizing it was unusual — startling, even — for a president to render such a judgment before a verdict, Biden said he felt free to speak because the jury was sequestered during deliberations.

His prayers were answered. There also was relief because in case the jury had gone the other way, the nation was braced for new spasms of fury on the streets. But Biden's message in a speech to the nation on Tuesday night was not to celebrate and move on. "It’s not enough," Biden said of the verdict in the white officer's murder of a Black man. "We can’t stop here." Tuesday's verdict, he said, can be "a giant step forward."

"It was a murder in the full light of day, and it ripped the blinders off for the whole world to see," the president said. "Systemic racism is a stain on our nation’s soul, the knee on the neck of justice for Black Americans, profound fear and trauma, the pain and exhaustion that Black and brown Americans experience every single day."

But he said the guilty verdict was something that was "much too rare," and that it still took a convergence of factors — including an eyewitness recording of Floyd’s killing and police officials willing testify against one of their own — for it to happen.

"For so many, it feels like it took all of that for the judicial system to deliver just basic accountability," the president said.

Vice President Kamala Harris, who spoke before Biden, said the lives of Americans of color must be "valued in our education system, in our health care system, in our housing system, in our economic system, in our criminal justice system, in our nation. Full stop."

Biden and Harris each called on the Senate to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which would, among other things, ban federal law enforcement from using chokeholds and restrict other practices. The House passed that legislation in February, but it is awaiting a vote in the Senate. "I can't breathe. Those were George Floyd's last words," Biden said. "We can't let those words die with him. We have to keep hearing those words." (Click here for a transcript of Biden's speech and Harris' remarks and here for a video.)

President's pledge to Floyd family

Biden spoke to the Floyd family on Monday — and again on Tuesday shortly after the guilty verdicts for Chauvin were announced. The president could be heard Tuesday on speakerphone as relatives huddled around, saying, "Feeling better now. Nothing is going to make it all better, but at least now there is some justice." (Here's video of the phone call and a transcript.)

Biden first met Floyd's relatives when he traveled to grieve with them in Houston last year. Also on the call, Harris described Tuesday as "a day of justice in America" and the family as "real leaders at this moment where we needed you." Biden mentioned a comment last June from Floyd’s daughter Gianna, then 6, that "my dad is going to change the world."

"He is going to start to change it now," Biden said Tuesday. "You are an incredible family. I wish I were there just to put arms around you." He pledged to push for police reform measures. "We are going to do a lot. We are going to stay at it until we get it done," president said. And then he offered another promise to the family.

"You better all get ready, because when we do it, we are going to put you on Air Force One and get you here," Biden said.

The family laughed. "We are going to hold you to that, Mr. President," said their lead lawyer, Ben Crump. (Click here for photos of reactions across the U.S. to Chauvin's guilty verdict.)

Leave of grass

Biden isn't willing to go as far as Senate and House Democrats who are pushing a bill to legalize marijuana, press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday.

"At the federal level, he supports decriminalizing marijuana," Psaki said, noting that Biden backs legalizing medical uses of the drug, something several states have done. When pressed specifically on whether he would sign a bill legalizing pot nationwide, Psaki just said, "I just have outlined what his position is, which isn’t the same as what the House and Senate have proposed, but they have not yet passed a bill." She also said Biden would leave questions on recreational use of marijuana to the states.

Biden endorses statehood for D.C.

The Biden administration issued a policy position Tuesday in support of statehood for the nation's capital, forcefully backing legislation to make the District of Columbia the 51st state ahead of a House vote scheduled for Thursday.

Citing Washington, D.C.'s "robust economy, a rich culture, and a diverse population of Americans from all walks of life," the administration said the proposed State of Washington, Douglass Commonwealth, would "make our Union stronger and more just." (The Douglass part of the name is in honor of Frederick Douglass, the onetime slave who became a leading abolitionist during the 19th century.)

It is the strongest backing the statehood cause has ever received from the White House, The Washington Post reported. The bill faces a steeply uphill struggle to reach the necessary 60 votes in the Senate. Republicans see statehood for the heavily Democratic district as virtually certain to increase the rival party's representation in the Senate and House.

Upbeat takes on Iran talks

Diplomats working in Vienna on a solution to bringing the United States back into the nuclear deal with Iran and world powers are taking a break from the talks to consult with their leaders amid continued signs of progress, The Associated Press reported.

U.S. officials say there has been no breakthrough in the plans to revive the U.S. role in the 2015 accord, but they have described the indirect negotiations as "thorough" and "thoughtful." "We are on the right track and some progress has been made, but this does not mean that the talks in Vienna have reached the final stage," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh told a news conference in Tehran.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the "negotiations have achieved 60-70% progress" and "if the Americans act honestly, we will reach a conclusion in little time."

More coronavirus news

See a roundup of the latest regional pandemic developments on Long Island and beyond by Newsday's Bart Jones. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.

What else is happening:

  • When Biden took office, he put a 60-day pause on construction of the border wall for a review. A third month has passed, and his next move remains uncertain, ABC News reported.
  • Former President George W. Bush said on NBC's "Today" show that the Republican Party he served as president has become "isolationist, protectionist and, to a certain extent, nativist" and said he’s especially concerned about anti-immigration rhetoric. "It's a beautiful country we have and yet it's not beautiful when we condemn, call people names and scare people about immigration," he said.
  • Both Bush and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton voiced concerns over the fate of women's rights in Afghanistan after the U.S. military pullout due to be completed on Sept. 11. Bush said on the "Today" show: "My first reaction was, ‘Wow, these girls are going to have real trouble with the Taliban.’ " Clinton tweeted, "Peace in Afghanistan must not lead to Afghan women losing hard-won rights."
  • Ted Nugent, the right-wing rocker and sometime Trump rally performer who called the coronavirus a "scam," has changed his tune since coming down with COVID-19. "I literally could hardly crawl out of bed the last few days," he said in a Facebook Live. "I thought I was dying," the 72-year-old "Cat Scratch Fever" singer said between coughs.
  • Former Vice President Mike Pence, who had a pacemaker implanted last week, tweeted that he's "back at work" and "on the road to full recovery."
  • Congressional security officials are in discussions about rebuilding fencing around the U.S. Capitol — just weeks after a previous perimeter came down — to help secure the building ahead of Biden’s April 28 joint-session address to Congress and possible protests expected in the capital, multiple sources told Politico.
  • Biden on Tuesday ordered flags to be flown at half-staff to honor former Vice President Walter Mondale, who died Monday at age 93.

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