Police reform in limbo after Senate setback

The Senate on Wednesday threw the chances of a police reform deal into limbo, raising the likelihood that no agreement is able to pass Congress.

The prospects for police reform legislation becoming law this year were dealt a significant setback after Senate Democrats blocked a GOP proposal from advancing.

The procedural vote leaves no clear path to a deal, with senators acknowledging they don’t know how to break the impasse. The Senate voted 55 to 45 on advancing the measure, falling short of the 60 votes needed. Sens. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinSusan Collins and the American legacy Democrats seem unlikely to move against Feinstein Push to expand Supreme Court faces Democratic buzzsaw MORE (D-W.Va.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.) and Angus KingAngus KingSusan Collins and the American legacy Coordinated federal leadership is needed for recovery of US travel and tourism Federal commission issues recommendations for securing critical tech against Chinese threats MORE (I-Maine) voted with Republicans to try to advance the bill.


For now, the Senate is moving on, with the chamber expected to take up and debate a mammoth defense bill up until they leave by next Friday for a two-week July 4 break.

“If we can’t do it now, I don’t know when we’ll ever do it,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamHillicon Valley: Threatening emails raise election concerns | Quibi folds after raising nearly B | Trump signs law making it a crime to hack voting systems Trump signs legislation making hacking voting systems a federal crime Jaime Harrison on Lindsey Graham postponing debate: 'He's on the verge of getting that one-way ticket back home' MORE (R-S.C.).

Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneGOP coronavirus bill blocked as deal remains elusive Clyburn predicts action on coronavirus relief after elections GOP to Trump: Focus on policy MORE (S.D.), the No. 2 Republican senator, noted that Republicans could force another vote on police reform under a procedural tactic deployed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOn The Money: Power players play chess match on COVID-19 aid | Pelosi bullish, Trump tempers optimism | Analysis: Nearly 1M have run out of jobless benefits Trump casts doubt on hopes for quick stimulus deal after aides expressed optimism Power players play chess match on COVID-19 aid MORE (R-Ky.). But asked if there were negotiations going on to break the stalemate in the near future, he acknowledged “not at the moment.”

The partisan battle comes nearly a month after George Floyd’s death sparked nationwide calls for law enforcement reforms and an end to police brutality and racial injustice, putting intense pressure on Congress to act.

The House is set to pass its own bill largely along party lines on Thursday that would make sweeping reforms to the law enforcement system after Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police.

But that legislation — which would overhaul a legal doctrine that shields police officers from lawsuits, curb the use of no-knock warrants and bans the use of chokeholds by federal law enforcement — is considered a non-starter in the GOP-controlled Senate.


Democrats feel like public sentiment is on their side. And giving them more political cover to block the bill, nearly 190 civil rights groups and the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) urged the Senate to reject starting debate on the legislation. 

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerTrump casts doubt on hopes for quick stimulus deal after aides expressed optimism Schumer says he had 'serious talk' with Feinstein, declines to comment on Judiciary role Democrats seem unlikely to move against Feinstein MORE (D-N.Y.) predicted that Republicans would feel public pressure to come to the negotiating table.

“Mitch McConnell has a way of trying to bully us around ... and if past is prologue, all this year and last year when he tried on a major issue, our caucus held together and each time he came back,” Schumer told reporters. “I believe that the Republican Party sees the handwriting on the wall.” 

Asked if he thought a bill could get done this Congress, Schumer added that he thought there was “a better chance than people think.”

Democrats are urging for either the Senate Judiciary Committee to take up police reform legislation or for a bipartisan working group to be put together to try to break the impasse. Going through committee could allow for amendments to be approved, or not, with a simple majority unlike on the Senate floor, where Democrats expected they would need 60 votes.

“I think we ought to have a try at it. ... Put both bills before the committee, we might have some common ground,” said Senate Minority Whip Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Goldman Sachs - Pelosi, Mnuchin push stimulus talks forward, McConnell applies brakes Schumer says he had 'serious talk' with Feinstein, declines to comment on Judiciary role Durbin signals he isn't interested in chairing Judiciary Committee MORE (D-Ill.). 

But Graham signaled his panel was unlikely to take the issue up, telling reporters that he wanted to debate a bill on the Senate floor. He added that he thought going through his panel was unlikely to end the stalemate.

“I think you’ve got the same problem,” he said, asked about taking it through his committee.

Unlike on previous big social issues there, does not appear to be a bipartisan group ready to try to break the deadlock, though senators acknowledge they’ve had conversations. Graham, Durbin and Sens. Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottDemocrats unveil bill to reduce police violence against people with mental illness Liberals should embrace Trump's Supreme Court nominee Romney slams Trump for refusing to denounce QAnon on national television MORE (R-S.C.), Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisObama to campaign for Biden in Florida Biden appears on Brené Brown's podcast to discuss 'empathy, unity and courage' The Hill's Campaign Report: Obama to hit the campaign trail l Biden's eye-popping cash advantage l New battleground polls favor Biden MORE (D-Calif.), Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerDemocratic senators unveil bill to ban discrimination in financial services industry Obama endorses Espy in Mississippi Senate race Durbin signals he isn't interested in chairing Judiciary Committee MORE (D-N.J.) and Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioIntel officials say Iran, Russia seeking to influence election Senate Intel leaders warn of election systems threats Trump remarks put pressure on Barr MORE (R-Fla.) met Tuesday, in a meeting that both sides signaled did not move the Senate closer to a deal.

A source familiar with the matter described it as a “formality” ahead of the failed procedural vote. Scott said there was not “discernible” progress.

Republicans, after Wednesday’s vote, are showing no signs of backing away from their strategy of using Scott’s bill as their base for action on the Senate floor, appearing to reject talk from Democrats of trying to convene a bipartisan group to work out a new deal.

“Our members are united that Tim Scott put together a really solid bill. It deserves a chance to at least be debated,” Thune said.


The Republican bill — spearheaded by Scott, the only Black GOP senator — would incentivize state and local police departments to stop using chokeholds by linking a ban to federal law enforcement grants. It also would compile data on the use of force by police and the use of no-knock warrants, impose new penalties for not using body cameras, set requirements on law enforcement records retention and include a separate bill that makes lynching a federal hate crime.

Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntPower players play chess match on COVID-19 aid GOP to Trump: Focus on policy Low-flying helicopters to measure radiation levels in DC before inauguration MORE (Mo.), a member of GOP leadership, added that he hoped an agreement could be found but said, “I can’t imagine that we could offer much more than Senator Scott and the leader have already offered.”

Instead, frustration was running high in the Senate after the failed vote, underscoring the political tensions complicating any chance of a deal on police reform.

“When this bill is gone and next week we’re on the DOD or something else, we’ll forget about this. We’ll move on. People will forget about it,” Scott said. “And you know what’s going to happen? Something bad.”

Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineDemocrats have no case against Amy Coney Barrett — but that won't stop them Pence-Harris debate draws more than 50M viewers, up 26 percent from 2016 Five takeaways from the vice presidential debate MORE (D-Va.), who was on the floor listening to Scott’s speech, countered that the Senate’s debate on police reform was “only over for those who want it to be over.”

“We tried it the wrong way,” he added. “Let’s try it the right way.”