When asked during a TIME 100 Talks discussion on Thursday whether she thinks police unions need to be “reined in,” Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi said no, adding that she believes the unions “know that there’s some things that have to change and want to be part of that conversation.”
Advocates say police unions have created major roadblocks for reform over the years, a dynamic that’s faced renewed scrutiny as protests against police brutality and systemic racism have swept the U.S. since the murder of George Floyd on May 25. Pressure has mounted for the AFL-CIO — the largest federation of unions in the U.S. — to expel police unions from the organization.
But when asked by TIME national political correspondent Molly Ball whether she believes police unions are “part of the problem” and if “something needs to be done to rein them in,” Pelosi said she didn’t think so, sharing that she’d had a recent conversation with the head of a police union that, in her view, “was very constructive in following up on the Justice In Policing Act.”
Congressional Democrats unveiled the Justice in Policing Act on Monday, a sweeping legislative proposal that would ban the use of chokeholds, create a national registry of police misconduct, lower the legal standard for prosecuting police misconduct and ban no-knock warrants, among other reforms.
“The public sentiment is very clear,” Pelosi said. “While we understand the need for public safety … we don’t want to have injustice and abuse of power by the police.”
She added that she thinks this moment is different from previous calls for reform before because it’s become “more universally embraced.” Pelosi also said she’s hopeful the GOP will support the House’s reform efforts because they can sense the strength of the public demand for change. “If our Republican colleagues are oblivious to that, it will be to their peril,” she said.
When asked whether she supports defunding police departments, Pelosi responded that Democrats will need to “go further” than the Justice in Policing Act, but did not specifically mention defunding the police. She called for the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act as well a national mental health initiative to change the role mental illness plays in the justice system. “We need to have more resources to do what we need to do,” she said, adding that racial injustice affects many sectors of the country, including housing, education and the healthcare system.
Pelosi told Ball that she doesn’t regret voting for the 1994 Crime Bill “at all,” despite criticism from many advocates that the bill exacerbated mass incarceration in the U.S.. Pelosi pointed to the passage of the Violence Against Women Act, which was included in the bill, as well as the Brady Act, which mandated federal background checks the purchase of firearms, as her reasoning.
Pelosi also discussed former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign for president, as well as his decision to pick a woman as his running mate, which she said was “absolutely great.”
When asked whether she believes Biden should select a woman of color, Pelosi said Biden has a good selection of “candidates across the board.” She added that she is “confident about the direction he may go in … And I know that the decision is his, so I wouldn’t even think of making a suggestion.”
“It’s going to be pretty exciting. It’s historic,” she said of the choice, sharing that she’d been the chair of the host committee for the Democratic convention in 1984 when Rep. Geraldine Ferraro was nominated to be Walter Mondale’s vice president, becoming the first woman on a major party’s presidential ticket. “It was like something we had never seen before. It was thunderous, the response,” she reflected. “How people were so excited about it. And that was a long time ago.”
This article is part of #TIME100Talks: Finding Hope, a special series featuring leaders across different fields encouraging action toward a better world. Want more? Sign up for access to more virtual events, including live conversations with influential newsmakers.