WASHINGTON — The Rev. Al Sharpton visited the White House on Thursday to talk political strategy with President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.
The controversial New York-based civil rights activist and MSNBC host joined a small group to discuss “the fight to protect the constitutional right to vote and to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act,” the White House said.
The nearly 2-hour West Wing meeting was closed to reporters and also featured representatives from the NAACP, the National Urban League and the National Council of Negro Women, among others.
Sharpton told reporters on the White House driveway that the meeting was “very candid, no holds barred.”
“If we don’t put the street heat on it won’t happen,” Sharpton said.
“We informed them this is going to come not from the White House down but from our houses up.”
Sharpton tweeted an image of the small group that met with Biden, Harris and White House officials.
Sharpton, 66, gained national fame through his bombastic and factually flexible commentary on race relations — and it’s unclear how exactly Biden and Harris intend to harness his talents to pass legislation.
In 1987, Sharpton infamously helped publicize false rape accusations made by Tawana Brawley against four white men. Brawley and Sharpton were ordered to pay damages for defamation.
He was accused of helping incite the anti-Jewish Crown Heights riot in 1991, which resulted in two deaths, injured dozens and caused widespread property damage after 7-year-old Gavin Cato was fatally struck by a rabbi’s motorcade.
At Cato’s funeral, Sharpton fanned the flames by denouncing “diamond dealers” and what he called “an apartheid ambulance service” for Jews.
The two topics on which Biden and Harris solicited Sharpton’s views have significantly different federal outlooks.
National election reform changes are unlikely to pass, but are serving as an opportunity for both political parties to rally their bases.
Democrats in Congress are pushing to federalize election policy to override Republican state-level reforms that they say are too restrictive, but the bill can’t pass due to GOP opposition and centrist Democrats who oppose eliminating the 60-vote threshold for most bills in the Senate.
Policing reform stands a better shot at passing amid bipartisan negotiations, but Republicans have accused Democrats of blocking widely supported reforms in favor of ideas that lack bipartisan backing, resulting in nothing passing.
Senate Democrats last year blocked a Republican bill that would incentivize police departments to restrict chokeholds, purchase and use body-worn cameras and keep information on use-of-force incidents and no-knock raids.
Democrats pushed a farther-reaching bill that would also curtail transfers of military equipment to police, create an officer misconduct registry, end qualified immunity from lawsuits and lower the threshold to federally prosecute officers if they show “reckless disregard” for life.