Senate Democrats poised to block Republican police reform bill

Senate Democrats are set to sink Republicans’ police reform plan, vowing to block the bill on a key procedural vote Wednesday.

The partisan clash comes 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, argue the bill doesn’t go nearly far enough.

The likely 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 argue that Wednesday’s vote is a way to begin the police reform debate and that the process will allow for consideration of amendments. Democrats say 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 are calling on Republicans to come back to the negotiating table to come up with a bipartisan solution that the Senate can 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 are highlighting opposition from key civil rights groups, including the NAACP and 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.”

Not every Senate Democrat will vote against moving forward on the bill. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) plans to vote in favor of the procedural vote. But Republicans need at least seven Democrats to reach the 60-vote threshold.

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 Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), 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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