Biden says he's praying for 'the right verdict' in Chauvin trial

He called the case against the former police officer "overwhelming."

April 20, 2021, 3:19 PM

President Biden weighed in on his hopes for a verdict in the trial of Derek Chauvin for the first time Tuesday, after speaking with George Floyd's family at the start of jury deliberations.

"I’m praying the verdict is the right verdict, which is -- I think it’s overwhelming, in my view," Biden told reporters in the Oval Office. "I wouldn’t say that unless the -- the jury was sequestered now and not hearing me say that."

Biden did not explicitly say whether the "right verdict" is guilty or not guilty. As president, Biden has been careful not to comment on a potential outcome in the former Minneapolis police officer's trial for murder in Floyd's death.

PHOTO: President Joe Biden speaks during a meeting with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, in the Oval Office of the White House, April 20, 2021, in Washington.
President Joe Biden speaks during a meeting with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, in the Oval Office of the White House, April 20, 2021, in Washington.
Evan Vucci/AP

Later Tuesday, when questioned to be more specific about what he meant, White House press secretary Jen Psaki argued Biden was not necessarily advocating for one outcome over another.

"I don't think he would see it as weighing in on the verdict. He was conveying what many people are feeling across the country, which is compassion for the family. What a difficult time this is. What a difficult time this is for many Americans across the country who have been watching this trial very closely. The jury is sequestered. That is different from where things stood just yesterday, and he noted that in his comments as well," Psaki said.

Asked if it would be wrong for Americans to view Biden's comment as him saying he believes Chauvin should be found guilty, Psaki demurred.

"I think what people should conclude is that the president, like many Americans, has been deeply impacted by the trial," she said. "He was deeply impacted by his conversation with the Floyd family yesterday, that he understands that people are exhausted, that they're tired, that this type of violence and trauma we've seen around the country and continued to see over the past couple of weeks. And hopefully, that's what they take away from his comments.

The Senate's top Republican compared Biden's comments to the controversy over Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters calling for protesters to get "more confrontational" if Chauvin isn't found guilty.

"One of the hallmarks of our system is people are entitled to a fair trial. Sometimes a fair trial is difficult to conduct under these kinds of circumstances but it is certainly not helpful for a member of Congress, and even the president of the United States, to appear to be weighing in in public while the jury is trying to sort through this significant case," Mitch McConnell told reporters Tuesday.

Waters maintains she was talking about confronting the judicial system.

Biden has cultivated a relationship with the Floyd family since George Floyd's death spurred a reckoning on racial injustice in America, calling the family Monday to check in and convey he was praying for them, according to Psaki.

"I can only imagine the pressure and anxiety they’re feeling. And so, I waited till the jury was sequestered, and -- and I called," Biden said Tuesday. He said he didn't intend to make the call public, but George's brother, Philonise, spoke about the call during a television interview Tuesday morning.

"He was just calling, he knows how it is to lose a family member and he knows that, the process what we are going through. He's just letting us know he's praying for us and hoping that everything will come out to be okay," Philonise said on NBC's "Today Show," referring to Biden's deep empathy for those who have experienced tragedies like the loss of his own wife and two children.

"They’re a good family. And they’re calling for peace and tranquility no matter what that verdict is," Biden said.

"We just talked a little. I wanted to know how they were doing, just personally," he added.

As a candidate for president, Biden was more forthcoming on his views of Floyd's death, frequently condemning the incident on the campaign trail.

"And once again we heard the words, and they heard them, 'I can’t breathe' — an act of brutality so elemental, it did more than deny one more black man in America his civil rights and his human rights. It denied him of his very humanity," Biden said on May 29, five days after the incident.

As recently as February, Biden said that Floyd was "murdered," while expressing his hope that the world seeing Floyd’s death would help bring about change.

Biden's relationship with Floyd's family began shortly after his death. The first time Biden left his home region of Wilmington, Delaware, after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic was to meet with the family in Houston, ahead of Floyd's funeral.

"Listening to one another is what will begin to heal America. That's just what VP @JoeBiden did with the family of #GeorgeFloyd – for more than an hour. He listened, heard their pain, and shared in their woe. That compassion meant the world to this grieving family," tweeted family attorney Ben Crump of Biden's visit with the family.

Biden also recorded a video for Floyd's funeral service, addressing Floyd's daughter Gianna directly in his message.

"Little Gianna — as I said to you when I saw you yesterday, you are so brave. Daddy is looking down and he is so proud of you. And I know you miss that bear hug that only he could give. That pure joy riding on his shoulders so you could touch the sky. The countless hours he spent playing any game you wanted because your smile, your laugh, your love is the only thing that mattered in at the moment. And I know you have a lot of questions that no child should have to ask, questions that too many black children have had to ask for generations. Why? Why is Daddy gone?" Biden said.

Psaki has noted she expects Biden to "speak" after a verdict is announced. She would not say who is advising the president on the best tone or format for that reaction.

"You know, I think that's something that will come from the President's heart, and he will be prepared to speak to it in some form or another -- I don't want to get ahead of what that format will look like -- when we know what the verdict looks like," Psaki said Tuesday, as the White House braces for national reaction to a verdict.

In preparation for an outcome, Biden has recently spoken to Minnesota's Democratic Gov. Tim Walz, and top White House officials are engaging with civil rights leaders as well as mayors in Minnesota and across the country, according to a White House official.

Biden has been closely watching the trial and provided updates, according to Psaki.

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