Senate Democrats block GOP’S ‘weak’ police reform bill

By: - June 25, 2020 5:30 am

Credit: Juanmonino/Getty Images

Tillis claims Dems will have “blood on their hands”; Schumer dismisses GOP bill a “weak tea”

WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats blocked a GOP police reform bill Wednesday because they said it fails to adequately respond to police brutality against people of color.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) sought to clear a procedural hurdle Wednesday so he could bring the bill to the floor for Senate consideration. But the legislation fell short of the 60 votes it needed to advance.

Fifty-five senators — mostly Republicans — backed the effort to advance the bill, while 45 senators — mostly Democrats — opposed it. Click here to view the roll call result.

Both of North Carolina’s Republican senators, Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, voted “yes.”  After the vote, Tillis went on the Fox News program, “Americas’ Newsroom” and accused Democrats of working to keep the issue alive for political purposes and warned they could have “blood on their hands” as a result of the vote. “They’re ending the debate on something that’s putting communities at risk, police officers at risk, and future [George] Floyds at risk,” Tillis said.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) called the police reform bill “weak tea” on the Senate floor Wednesday. “The Republican majority proposed the legislative equivalent of a fig leaf — something that provides a little cover but no real change,” he said.

Sen. Thom Tillis

He cited a letter from civil rights groups who said the bill “falls woefully short of the comprehensive reform needed to address the current policing crisis and achieve meaningful law enforcement accountability.”

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus agreed. “The American people deserve more than political posturing,” they wrote Monday in a letter to McConnell.

McConnell said Democrats have opportunities to amend the bill and that his party is “ready to make a law” but Democrats are shutting down debate on the bill for political gain. They’d rather “preserve this urgent subject as a live campaign issue than pass a bipartisan answer,” he said.

Schumer responded that “the shoe is on the other foot. I think the politics here is that Leader McConnell wants to show he’s doing something and get nothing done.”

‘All is not lost’

Sen. Tim Scott, a Black Republican from South Carolina, unveiled the Senate GOP bill last week in response to massive civil unrest over police brutality against people of color. The bill would give police departments incentives to ban chokeholds, increase the use of body cameras, improve training in de-escalation tactics and require that prior performance records be taken into greater account when making hiring decisions. It would also increase data collection on the use of force, weapon discharge and no-knock warrants, among other provisions.

Unlike a Democratic police reform bill pending in the U.S. House, the GOP bill would not ban chokeholds or no-knock warrants at the federal level or make it easier for victims of police brutality to sue officers and seek damages. Nor would it bar racial and religious profiling or limit the transfer of military-grade equipment to state and local law enforcement officials.

There is some overlap between the Democratic and Republican proposals, including a provision that would make lynching a federal crime, according to The Hill.

Partisan objections to the bills mirror each other, said Sen. Bill Cassidy, a Louisiana Republican. “The criticism of their bill is that it federalizes law enforcement. The criticism of our bill is that it doesn’t impose enough federal standards.”

Rep. G. K. Butterfield

The House is expected to vote later this week on the Democratic bill. More than 218 other lawmakers have signed on to the bill, virtually ensuring its passage through the chamber. All three North Carolina Democratic House members – Alma Adams, G.K. Butterfield and David Price – are co-sponsors of the measure. Butterfield told Spectrum News earlier this month that “[He and other sponsors of the legislation] believe that we must change the culture of law enforcement in this country.”

Legislative action on the issue came about in the wake of the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died last month while in police custody — an event that has spurred massive civil unrest in recent weeks. Derek Chauvin, a white Minneapolis officer, who was fired and has since been charged with second-degree murder.

Black people comprise 13% of the population but represented nearly a quarter (24%) of police killings in 2019, according to the Congressional Black Caucus.

President Donald Trump has said he would support congressional action on police reform. But it’s unclear how Senate Republicans will respond if the House passes the Democratic bill.

Schumer offered McConnell a suggestion: Appoint a bipartisan group of senators to begin crafting a bill together and send it to the Senate Judiciary Committee for consideration before bringing it to the floor — a process he said that could take a few weeks. “All is not lost,” he said.

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Allison Stevens

Allison Stevens, DC Bureau Reporter, Allison covers the nation’s capital for States Newsroom’s network of news outlets. Her areas of coverage include politics and policy, campaigns and elections, and the Supreme Court. [email protected]