A close-up photo of police lights by night. Getty Images
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. From Wisconsin, Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) opposed it and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) voted for it.
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.
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 things.
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.”
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. Wisconsin representatives Gwen Moore, Ron Kind and Mark Pocan are all co-sponsors of the bill.
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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