Senate Democrats block Republican police reform plan

Senate Democrats block Republican police reform planJune 24, 2020

Senate Democrats sank Republicans’ police reform plan Wednesday, blocking a key procedural vote amid a fierce partisan clash.

The 55-45 vote came a week after Republicans unveiled the measure, led by Sen Tim Scott (R-S.C.), the only African American GOP senator. Senate Democrats, who have their own proposal to curb police misconduct, argued the bill didn’t go nearly far enough. Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.) and Angus King (I-Maine) voted with all Republicans to proceed — short of the 60 votes needed to advance.

The outcome is a deadlocked Senate once again, with both parties accusing the other of failing to negotiate in good faith, even as the country engages in a reckoning over police brutality in the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing by Minneapolis police.

Senate Republicans argued that Wednesday’s vote was a way to begin the police reform debate and that the process would allow for consideration of amendments. Democrats said there’s no point in voting to advance a bill they see as fatally flawed and that won’t have the 60 votes needed to pass the Senate.

Instead, Democrats called on Republicans to come back to the negotiating table to come up with a bipartisan solution that the Senate could then vote on. The Senate minority is particularly frustrated that GOP leaders put the bill on the floor before holding any talks to craft the plan or consider it in committee.

In a floor speech, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) defended Scott’s proposal and accused Democrats of giving a “last-minute ultimatum” by turning “this routine step into a partisan impasse.”

McConnell also demurred when asked when he would bring the bill back up after Democrats filibustered it. “Well, we will let you know. It can be done under a motion to reconsider at any point,” he told reporters.

He added that he will enter that motion after the vote, which will require him to change his vote from ‘yes’ to ‘no.’ That will allow him to bring it up quickly on the floor anytime this year if he wants.

Democrats say Scott’s bill is a non-starter, and highlighted opposition from key civil rights groups, including the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

“I want to ask the American people, I want to ask Republican senators, who is a better guardian of the civil rights of African Americans when it comes to police reform, the NAACP or Mitch McConnell,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) asked on the Senate floor Wednesday prior to the vote. “If this bill were such a good path to reform, why wouldn’t civil rights groups from one end of America to another say ‘go forward, maybe we’ll get something done?’ Because they know the bill is a ruse and nothing will get done.”

Following the vote, Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) thanked the Democratic caucus for mostly staying united.

“It’s of note that there’s a great diversity within our caucus… but there was an incredible consensus around this issue,” Harris said. “Let the beginning be today of a real conversation where the United States Congress will do its job in meeting the moment, in responding to the demands of the people and doing what is well within our grasp, take us at least one step closer to that ideal of equal justice under the law.”

Manchin was one of the few Democrats to buck his party.

“I know there’s a lot of skepticism whether McConnell could actually have amendments,” Manchin said. “And we can vote however on proceeding from there, cloture and all that. If he doesn’t, we’ll [stop it], I’ve talked to Tim Scott, Booker and everybody. And I just said guys there are some things we agree on, we’re not that far apart.”

The GOP bill requires additional disclosures about the use of force, codifies reporting requirements on the use of “no knock warrants,” provides incentives for chokehold bans and makes lynching a federal crime.

The Democratic proposal, led in the Senate by Booker and Harris, would ban chokeholds and no knock warrants in federal drug cases. It would also limit qualified immunity for police officers to make it easier to sue police — something Democrats argue is key to holding police officers accountable for misconduct, but which most Republicans won’t consider. The House is set to pass a sweeping Democratic police reform proposal Thursday.

Senate Republicans are accusing Democrats of wanting to campaign on the issue and say that if they want to improve the bill, they can do so through the amendment process. In his floor remarks Tuesday, Scott argued that the two proposals are not as far apart as Democrats are suggesting. For example, he said, both sides want to pass anti-lynching legislation and provide de-escalation training.

“Why can’t both sides agree on a motion to proceed?” Scott asked. “If there’s that much commonality in the underlying legislation, if we’re all watching the same pictures that we have all found disgusting and unbelievable, why can’t we agree to tackle the issue in a substantive way here on the floor of the world’s greatest deliberative body?”

Burgess Everett contributed to this report.

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