Schumer signals that Democrats will block GOP police reform bill

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) signaled on Tuesday that Democrats are prepared to block a GOP police reform bill.

Schumer, speaking from the Senate floor, sent his strongest warning yet that the Republican bill — spearheaded by Sen. Tim Scott (S.C.), the only Black GOP senator — will not advance and urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to back down.

“We Democrats are certain that the McConnell plan will not, indeed cannot, result in any legislation passing. It’s clear that the Republican bill, as is, will not get 60 votes. There’s overwhelming opposition to the bill in our caucus,” Schumer said.

“Because the bill needs such large-scale and fundamental change, there is no conceivable way that a series of amendments strong enough to cure the defects in the bill garner 60 votes either. So no bill will pass as a result of this ploy by Sen. McConnell,” he added.

The Republican bill will get a key test vote on Wednesday, when it will need 60 votes, including at least seven Democrats, to overcome an initial procedural hurdle. Sen. Doug Jones (Ala.) is the only Democrat who has indicated that he could vote to proceed to the GOP bill, leaving Republicans short of the support needed.

A growing number of Democrats, including Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) and Sens. Kamala Harris (Calif.) and Cory Booker (N.J.), the only two Black Democratic senators, will vote against proceeding to the bill on Wednesday. Durbin, however, said that the caucus as a whole had not taken a position on blocking the GOP bill if it comes up for a vote now.

“The problem with the bill that Leader McConnell wants to put on the floor, it’s not bold. It’s not courageous. There is no great imagination about what we can be. It doesn’t challenge us to come together. What it does is it guarantees that the cycle of violence in our country, the cycle of the abuse of civil rights, the cycle of death that has so moved so many Americans will continue,” Booker said from the Senate floor. 

Harris added that while she would vote against proceeding to the GOP bill, she would be willing to vote to take up “real reform.”

“Let’s proceed with action, not gestures, with action,” she added.  

But McConnell showed no signs of backing down on Tuesday, accusing Democrats of potentially blocking the bill to make a political point.

“The American people expect us to do our jobs, discuss debate and legislate on this subject that has captured the nation’s attention. Discussion, debate, votes on amendments. Tomorrow we’ll find out whether even these modest steps are a bridge too far for our colleagues on the Democratic side,” McConnell said.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), an advisor to McConnell, also appeared uninterested in trying to negotiate a deal ahead of the Wednesday vote, comparing Democrats to “hostage takers.” 

“Don’t they understand how the Senate operates?” he asked. “I’m not really all that interested in negotiating with hostage takers. That’s what this is.” 

Democrats say the bill falls short of calls for law enforcement reforms in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd. And after weeks of protests calling for the end of police brutality and systemic racism, they believe they have public support on their side.

Schumer, Booker and Harris sent a letter to McConnell on Tuesday urging him to cancel the Wednesday vote on the bill and start negotiating with Democrats, something he previously said would not happen until the Senate had agreed to start debate on the GOP bill. 

“We will not meet this moment by holding a floor vote on the JUSTICE Act, nor can we simply amend this bill, which is so threadbare and lacking in substance that it does not even provide a proper baseline for negotiations. This bill is not salvageable and we need bipartisan talks to get to a constructive starting point,” they wrote.

“Bringing the JUSTICE Act to the floor of the Senate is a woefully inadequate response, and we urge you to bring meaningful legislation to the floor for a vote,” they added. 

The GOP bill would use federal grants to try to incentivize state and local law enforcement to ban chokeholds. It also includes new reporting on the use of force by police and the use of no-knock warrants, has new penalties for not using body cameras, has new requirements on law enforcement records retention and would include a separate bill that makes lynching a federal hate crime.

But Democrats say it falls woefully short, particularly by not curbing the use of no-knock warrants, and not addressing qualified immunity, which shields police officers from civil lawsuits.

The House is expected to vote on the Democratic plan on Thursday, where it is expected to pass along party lines. 

—Updated at 12:05 p.m.


Tags Chuck Schumer Cory Booker Dick Durbin doug jones John Cornyn Mitch McConnell police reform Tim Scott

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