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 ManchinJoe Manchin​​Democrats make voting rights push ahead of Senate consideration Sunday shows - Voting rights legislation dominates Kaine says core of spending bill will pass but most of it is 'dead' MORE (D-W.Va.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.) and Angus KingAngus KingFor 2022, the Senate must work in a bipartisan manner to solve the American people's concerns This week: Democrats face crunch time on voting rights Democrats skeptical of McConnell's offer to talk on election law MORE (I-Maine) voted with Republicans to try to advance the bill.

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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 GrahamKyrsten Sinema's courage, Washington hypocrisy and the politics of rage Hillicon Valley: Amazon's Alabama union fight — take two McConnell will run for another term as leader despite Trump's attacks MORE (R-S.C.).

Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSinema scuttles hopes for filibuster reform How a nice-guy South Dakota senator fell into a Trump storm Democrats: Don't reject GOP offer to fix electoral count law 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 McConnell​​Democrats make voting rights push ahead of Senate consideration Hogan won't say if he will file to run for Senate by Feb. 22 deadline Voting rights, Trump's Big Lie, and Republicans' problem with minorities 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.

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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 SchumerRomney: I never got a call from White House to discuss voting rights Kyrsten Sinema's courage, Washington hypocrisy and the politics of rage Joe Biden's disastrous 48 hours 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 DurbinDick DurbinClyburn says he 'wholeheartedly' endorses Biden's voting rights remarks GOP senator knocks Biden for 'spreading things that are untrue' in voting rights speech Sinema, Manchin curb Biden's agenda 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 ScottThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Supreme Court allows lawsuits against Texas abortion ban Rapper French Montana talks opioid epidemic, immigration on Capitol Hill How expanded credit data can help tackle inequities MORE (R-S.C.), Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisSecond gentleman Emhoff acts as public link to White House Harris takes fresh start to 2022 We are America's independent contractors, and we are terrified MORE (D-Calif.), Cory BookerCory BookerCNN legal analyst knocks GOP senator over remark on Biden nominee Barnes rakes in almost 0K after Johnson enters Wisconsin Senate race Hillicon Valley: Amazon's Alabama union fight — take two MORE (D-N.J.) and Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioHow a nice-guy South Dakota senator fell into a Trump storm Republicans threaten floor takeover if Democrats weaken filibuster  Democrats must close the perception gap 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.

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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 BluntJohnson, Thune signal GOP's rising confidence Senate Minority Whip Thune, close McConnell ally, to run for reelection The end of orphanages starts with family strengthening programs 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 Kaine​​Democrats make voting rights push ahead of Senate consideration Sunday shows - Voting rights legislation dominates Kaine says core of spending bill will pass but most of it is 'dead' 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.”