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What prompted Mitt Romney to join Black Lives Matter march, work on police reform bill

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, marches with a crowd singing “Little Light of Mine” in Washington on Sunday, June 7, 2020. Romney marched Sunday in the protest against police mistreatment of minorities in the nation’s capital, making him the first Republican senator known to do so.
Michelle Boorstein/The Washington Post via AP

SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Mitt Romney joined a Black Lives Matter protest with a group of Christians in Washington, D.C., on Sunday to speak out against a “heinous murder carried out by a person with a badge.”

And in the wake of George Floyd’s death under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer, the Utah Republican plans to introduce police reform legislation, while slamming a Democratic proposal that has yet to draw GOP support.

Romney was the first Republican senator to join the protests against racial inequality and police brutality when he marched down Pennsylvania Avenue with hundreds of D.C.-area evangelicals.

“One of the fundamental principles of Christianity is that we’re all sons and daughters of the same God. And a fundamental principle of this country is that we’re entitled to equal rights under the law and that we are all esteemed as brothers and sisters,” Romney told reporters Monday in Washington.

“I state the obvious, which is black lives matter,” he said. “If there’s injustice, we want to correct that. If there is prejudice we want to change that. If there’s bias, we hope to give people a different perspective and to provide a sense of equality among our people.”

One of his sons and some of his grandchildren also participated in the protests, Romney said. He said that his whole family is upset over Floyd’s death and “animated” about the racial divide and prejudice in the country. He also referenced his father, George Romney, who supported the civil rights movement during his tenure as governor of Michigan in the 1960s.

Romney said he’s working with other GOP senators, including South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, the only black Republican in the Senate, on a police reform bill that he hopes would receive bipartisan support unlike the sweeping Democratic proposal unveiled Monday.

“The fact that it has no Republican sponsors, the fact that there was no effort to contact any of us to have us weigh in on the legislation, suggests it’s designed to be a message piece, as opposed to a real piece of legislation,” he said.

The plan, which has more than 200 Democratic co-sponsors in the House and the Senate, would prohibit the use of chokeholds, develop a national standard on the use of force and limit the transfer of surplus military equipment to local police departments. It would also create a national registry to track police misconduct.

Romney said his bill would include a “supervisory” component to determine if a police officer used unnecessary force or racial “enmity” in an interaction with another person. It would also require deescalation training and training to combat racial bias.

The 2012 GOP presidential nominee said he hopes his efforts would bring more black voters to the Republican Party, though that’s not the reason for his speaking out.

“My party obviously has an embarrassingly small share of African American voters. I certainly did in my election and we have since. And I’d like to see that change,” he said.

“But that isn’t what motivated me to stand up and speak. I saw a heinous murder carried out by a person with a badge. And I know that’s an outlier, that is an extreme case. ... But when there’s a bad apple, it’s got to be pointed out and addressed.”

As for calls to defund police departments, the senator called it “out of the range of reality.”

“We need our police. We’re not going to get rid of the police. That’s a silly idea. We’d be nuts to think that we’re going to reduce our commitment to the police,” he said.

Romney said he has not spoken to the Trump administration about his plans for police reform. He said he doesn’t know President Donald Trump’s views on the issue, but presumes he would be open to reforms that “provide better care for all our citizens.”

Trump mocked Romney’s participation in the Black Lives Matter protest on Twitter.

“Tremendous sincerity, what a guy. Hard to believe, with this kind of political talent, his numbers would ‘tank’ so badly in Utah!” the president tweeted in response to a video of Romney walking with protesters.

Romney declined to respond the tweet. He also deflected a question about whether he would vote for Trump in the November election. He wrote in his wife, Ann, in 2016.

“I’m not going to be describing who I’ll be voting for, I don’t imagine,” he said. “My plan is to stay quiet on that.”