House

Democrats punt policing bills beyond August

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) addresses reporters during a press conference on Wednesday, August 10, 2022 to discuss a recent congressional member delegation trip to the Indo-Pacific region including a visit to Taiwan, the first in 25 years.

House Democrats have scrapped a hopeful plan to vote this month on a package of public safety bills amid lingering disagreements between liberals and centrists over law enforcement funding and police accountability.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced the move in a letter to fellow Democrats Wednesday afternoon, saying the focus of this week — when the House will return briefly to Washington — should be the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), a massive climate, health and tax bill passed by the Senate on Sunday. 

The Speaker also acknowledged that the disagreements stalling the policing package have simply not yet been ironed out. 

“This week, our focus must remain on passing the IRA, as conversations continue on finding consensus for a robust public safety package,” Pelosi wrote. 

The move marks the second time Democrats have abandoned nascent plans to vote on a policing package, which had initially been expected to move late last month alongside a bill banning assault weapons. Instead, party leaders decoupled the proposals, passing the gun bill quickly with hopes of working out the kinks of the policing legislation and bringing it to the floor this week. 

The second delay is sure to infuriate a number of “front-line” Democrats — those facing tough reelections in November’s midterm elections — who have been fighting for the opportunity to vote on legislation to boost funding for local law enforcement agencies around the country. 

Such a vote would not only allow those vulnerable lawmakers to tout their support for law enforcers on the campaign trail, but would also defuse the Republican attacks that Democrats are hellbent on defunding the police at the expense of public safety.

“The voters are gonna vote the front-liners out,” said one vulnerable Democrat, warning of the political repercussions of heading into the polls without a strong demonstration of support for the nation’s law enforcement. 

Standing in their way have been a number of liberals — many of them in the Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Progressive Caucus or both — who are wary of showering new funding on police agencies without strong accountability measures designed to curb police abuse, which affects minority communities disproportionately. 

“Progressives understand that frontliners feel the need to legislate on this and have some votes on it; they understand our communities are concerned about it,” a senior aide with a progressive office said this week. 

“Let’s do it in a way that brings everyone together and everyone can get behind and doesn’t unnecessarily create division — not only inside the Democratic Caucus, but between Democrats and the Civil Rights groups,” the aide continued.

Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio), head of the Congressional Black Caucus, is leading the delicate negotiations with the sponsors of some of the police funding bills, including Democratic Reps. Abigail Spanberger (Va.), Josh Gottheimer (N.J.) and Tom O’Halleran (Ariz.). 

“My folks are very clear on voting how they need to vote for their constituency, and for their districts and their beliefs,” Beatty told reporters late last month as Congress was leaving Washington for the long August recess.

Pelosi has deferred to Beatty and the Congressional Black Caucus when it comes to the talks and the timing of the vote. And in her letter she praised all the negotiators working towards a deal that will promote both “justice and safety.” 

A day earlier, she had delivered a similar message to reporters in the Capitol, while also seeming to urge the holdouts to get on board.

“There is grave reason for people to be concerned about needing justice in policing, I grant that,” she said. “But this would have accountability for the first time.”

Mychael Schnell contributed.

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