Senate Democrats Threaten to Block GOP Police Reform Bill

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Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) signaled on Tuesday that Senate Democrats are prepared to block the GOP police reform from advancing, calling the measure “woefully inadequate” and urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to back down from holding a procedural vote.

“We Democrats are certain that the McConnell plan will not, indeed cannot, result in any legislation passing. It’s clear that the Republican bill, as is, will not get 60 votes. There’s overwhelming opposition to the bill in our caucus,” Schumer said speaking from the Senate floor on Tuesday. “We don’t need to study the problem of police misconduct and violence, we need to solve it.”

The Minority Leader called the measure from the GOP a “bad” and “ineffective” bill.

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“Because the bill needs such large-scale and fundamental change, there is no conceivable way that a series of amendments strong enough to cure the defects in the bill garner 60 votes either. So no bill will pass as a result of this ploy by Sen. McConnell,” Schumer said. “The longer you look at the Republican policing reform effort, the more obvious the shortcoming and deficiencies. If we pass a bill that’s ineffective, and the killings continue and police departments resist change and there is no accountability, the wound in our society will not close, it will fester.”

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He added, “The Republican majority has given the Senate a bad bill and proposed no credible way to sufficiently improve it.”

The signal from Senate Democrats to block the bill on Wednesday came as the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, as well as the Rev. Al Sharpton and Benjamin Crump, the attorney representing the family of George Floyd, sent a letter on Monday urging senators to oppose the GOP bill.

“In this moment, we cannot support legislation that does not embody a strong accountability framework for police officers and other law enforcement who engage in misconduct as well as needed reforms to policing practices,” the organization wrote in the letter. “We urge you to vote no on the motion to proceed with consideration of the JUSTICE Act and instead advance reforms that will hold law enforcement accountable and offer more transparency of policing practices such as those embodied in S.3912, the Justice in Policing Act of 2020.”

The JUSTICE Act, spearheaded by Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), the GOP lone Black Senator is scheduled for a vote on Wednesday. 60 votes are needed to advance an initial procedural hurdle and Republicans need seven Democrats. So far, Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) is the only Democrat who has indicated that he would vote to proceed. 

However, the majority of Democrats including the two only Black Senators — Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey have come out against the bill, stating in their floor speech that both would vote against the motion to proceed. 

“The problem with the bill that Leader McConnell wants to put on the floor, it’s not bold. It’s not courageous,” Booker said from the Senate floor. “There is no great imagination about what we can be. It doesn’t challenge us to come together. What it does is it guarantees that the cycle of violence in our country, the cycle of the abuse of civil rights, the cycle of death that has so moved so many Americans will continue.”

Booker added, “Who do you trust on police reform in America? The NAACP, or Mitch McConnell?”

“We can’t answer the people’s demand for accountability with watered-down politics,” Harris said during her floor speech. “I will say we cannot answer their demand with this Republican attempt to obstruct real progress and real justice in our country.”

Earlier, Schumer, Booker and Harris sent a letter to McConnell urging him to cancel Wednesday’s vote, and start having a “bipartisan talks” with Democrats to negotiate a more expansive bill that both parties could support.

“We will not meet this moment by holding a floor vote on the JUSTICE Act, nor can we simply amend this bill, which is so threadbare and lacking in substance that it does not even provide a proper baseline for negotiations. This bill is not salvageable and we need bipartisan talks to get to a constructive starting point,” the letter stated. “Bringing the JUSTICE Act to the floor of the Senate is a woefully inadequate response, and we urge you to bring meaningful legislation to the floor for a vote.”

Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) who described Sen. Tim Scott bill as a “token, half-hearted” approach last week, stated the Democratic caucus as a whole has not taken a position on whether to block the GOP bill before it comes up for a vote.

“At this point, there is no clarity on what we’re being offered by Sen. McConnell procedurally. All he’s offered is a motion to proceed — take it or leave it,” Durbin told reporters. “I’ve faced similar Sen. McConnell offers in the past, and the best thing that happened is we didn’t accept his offer. We demanded a bipartisan approach.”

McConnell came into the defense of the GOP bill, criticized Senate Democrats for their resistance,

saying Democrats were more intent to block the bill just to make a political point than to work or address the crisis.

“The American people expect us to do our jobs, discuss debate and legislate on this subject that has captured the nation’s attention. Discussion, debate, votes on amendments,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. “The American people deserve better than a political stalemate. The American people deserve for the Senate to take up this issue at this time. Senate Republicans want to have this discussion. We are ready to make a law, not just make a point.”

“Suddenly, our Democratic colleagues are reportedly agonizing and debating whether to let the Senate have this discussion at all or whether to kill any chance of reform legislation before it can even taxi onto the runway,” he added. “Tomorrow we’ll find out whether even these modest steps are a bridge too far for our colleagues on the Democratic side. We’ll find out whether our Democratic colleagues share our ambition or whether they chose to duck the issue and leave the country in the lurch.”

The House police reform proposal was introduced a week before Scott unveiled his version and both bills have several areas of overlap. However, the GOP bill measure does not include a provision to eliminate “qualified immunity”, a legal mechanism that protects police from being sued if accused of misconduct. This issue is considered a central component of the House Democrats’ bill.

Known as The Justice in Policing Act of 2020, the House Democratic version is scheduled for a vote on Thursday and it is expected to pass along party lines.