Gridlock mires chances of police reform deal

Gridlock mires chances of police reform deal
© Greg Nash

Police reform legislation is hitting a wall on Capitol Hill.

The gridlock, paired with the looming election, raises the prospects that lawmakers will fail to send a police bill to President TrumpDonald TrumpIran convicts American businessman on spying charge: report DC, state capitals see few issues, heavy security amid protest worries Pardon-seekers have paid Trump allies tens of thousands to lobby president: NYT MORE’s desk this year.

Congress has been under intense pressure to act since George Floyd’s death by Minneapolis police sparked widespread protests and calls to end systemic racism and police brutality.


The House passed a sweeping reform bill Thursday night, but that measure is going nowhere in the Senate, which is mired in its own partisan standoff.

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham calls on Schumer to hold vote to dismiss article of impeachment against Trump Impeachment trial tests Trump's grip on Senate GOP An attack on America that's divided Congress — and a nation MORE (R-S.C.) said passing police reform “seems to be” dead in the Senate after most Democrats blocked a bill spearheaded by Sen. Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottHarris to resign from Senate seat on Monday McConnell says he's undecided on whether to vote to convict Trump McConnell won't reprise role as chief Trump defender MORE (S.C.), the only Black Republican senator, from moving forward.

“I don’t know how you do something,” Graham told reporters. “It’s a shame, but we are where we are.”

Sen. Mike BraunMichael BraunTop Republican congressional aide resigns, rips GOP lawmakers who objected to Biden win Congress affirms Biden win after rioters terrorize Capitol Congress rejects challenge to Arizona's presidential vote MORE (R-Ind.) added that he believes Congress has likely missed its moment to pass legislation in the wake of Floyd’s death. The Senate voted on Thursday to start debate on a mammoth defense policy bill that will eat up its schedule until a two-week break that starts July 3.

“I’d say it’s on the back burner for a good while because I don’t think there would be any attempt to do anything else when you’ve kind of put the quietus on the process,” Braun said.

Neither side of the Capitol is ready to throw in the towel completely as lawmakers continue to face calls to show they can respond to the anger and protests over law enforcement practices nationwide.


But there is no sign of a detente on the horizon. If a deal is going to be found, lawmakers argue, it will be because the other party shifted its strategy.

“It’s really up to the Democrats. ... They have to come to the table on something,” Scott said. “The Democrats cannot hold every single card.”

Asked if he was worried about a loss of momentum, Scott replied that it was “dissipating as we speak.”

Each chamber took a largely partisan approach with their respective police reform measures, prompting House Republicans and Senate Democrats to argue it was all but impossible to end up with a bipartisan bill.

In the House, Democrats on the Judiciary Committee voted down all GOP attempts to change the bill earlier this month before passing it without further changes on Thursday night. Meanwhile, the working group put together by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGraham calls on Schumer to hold vote to dismiss article of impeachment against Trump Rove: Chances of conviction rise if Giuliani represents Trump in Senate impeachment trial Boebert communications director resigns amid Capitol riot: report MORE (R-Ky.) consisted only of Republicans, with the GOP leader indicating he wouldn’t negotiate with Democrats until they voted to let the bill come up for debate.

The result was two bills with significant sticking points, including divisions over a legal doctrine that shields police officers from lawsuits, the use of no-knock warrants and how to ban chokeholds.

“I think we wanted to have a bill that obviously represented the views of the Republican senators,” Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneImpeachment trial tests Trump's grip on Senate GOP For platform regulation Congress should use a European cheat sheet Streamlining the process of prior authorization for medical and surgical procedures MORE (R-S.D.) told The Hill in a recent interview about the GOP strategy.

But those tactics have frustrated Democrats, who accused McConnell of trying to “bully” them into accepting the legislation without giving them a realistic shot at being able to change it.

“They made it very clear that they were not willing to improve the bill that they wrote themselves,” said Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphySenate Democrats leery of nixing filibuster Democratic senator: COVID-19 relief is priority over impeachment trial Lawmakers push back on late Trump terror designation for Yemen's Houthis MORE (D-Conn.). “It’s very consistent with how McConnell functions.”

Democrats, meanwhile, are banking on their strategy paying off. They've passed their legislative wish-list and are now hoping that public pressure — derived from the national unrest — will give reluctant Republicans no choice but to act on measures that go further than Scott's bill.

"When we pass this bill, the Senate will have a choice: to honor George Floyd’s life or to do nothing," Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiCowboys for Trump founder arrested following Capitol riot Retired Army general: 'We can't have demonstrators showing up at a state Capitol with damn long guns' Graham calls on Schumer to hold vote to dismiss article of impeachment against Trump MORE (D-Calif.) said earlier this week.

Rep. Karen BassKaren Ruth BassDemocrats point fingers on whether Capitol rioters had inside help Rep. Bass tweets photo of Trump in response to FBI call for information on rioters San Francisco mayor says Harris replacement pick 'a real blow to the African American community' MORE (D-Calif.), lead sponsor of the House measure, has been more optimistic than most. She noted that much of the GOP criticism has been focused on the liberal push to defund the police — an idea that's been rejected by Democratic leaders and is nowhere to be found in their bill.

"I have a long list of my Republican colleagues from Judiciary who expressed opposition to all sorts of things in the hearing — but not the bill," Bass said. "So I think that leaves us a basis from which to talk. And so that's what I plan to do."

But there have been no talks this week that suggest a bipartisan deal is on the horizon.

Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisBiden-Harris team unveils inauguration playlist Trump approval rating relatively unchanged in wake of Capitol rioting: NBC News poll Harris to resign from Senate seat on Monday MORE (D-Calif.), one of the key proponents of the Democratic proposal in the Senate, said she had not talked with any Republicans on Thursday about the bill. Bass added that she had not been part of talks with Scott or other Senate Republicans. And Graham has all but closed the door to Democrats’ suggestion of bringing a bill up in the Judiciary Committee.

Senate Republicans say they have little interest in changing their negotiating stance, which is to bring up Scott’s bill, with the South Carolina Republican focused on trying to find an additional four Democrats to vote to start debate on his bill.

An attempt to end debate on bringing the bill to the floor fell short of the 60 votes needed to proceed. Sens. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinBiden tax-hike proposals face bumpy road ahead Senate Democrats leery of nixing filibuster Manchin: Removing Hawley, Cruz with 14th Amendment 'should be a consideration' MORE (D-W.Va.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.) and Angus KingAngus KingAngus King warns of 'grave danger' of Trump revealing classified information Senate Democrats leery of nixing filibuster 'Almost Heaven, West Virginia' — Joe Manchin and a 50-50 Senate MORE (I-Maine) voted with Republicans to try to advance the bill on Wednesday.

With nothing to show for their efforts, lawmakers are honing their respective pitches to voters about Congress’s inability to pass police reform legislation as the November election casts an increasingly long shadow over the Capitol.


Democrats, while stressing that they still want to negotiate, have accused McConnell of setting up a partisan process that gives Republicans the opportunity to say they had a vote but then blame Democrats for its failure and move on.

“Let me be very clear: The debate on policing reform is only over for those who want it to be over. And maybe those who never truly wanted this debate in the first place,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerCowboys for Trump founder arrested following Capitol riot Graham calls on Schumer to hold vote to dismiss article of impeachment against Trump Biden and the new Congress must protect Americans from utility shutoffs MORE (D-N.Y.).

Durbin added that “some of them want it to be over. They’ve got their vote, now they don’t want to face an alternative.”

But Republicans, frustrated by Wednesday’s setback, say they believe Democrats want to keep police reform on the table for November, when they will try to win back the White House and Senate.

“I think there are a number of bills that the minority in the Senate would rather have the issue than have a solution. I think this is one of them, I think DACA is one of them, and I think there are others,” said Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntUS Chamber of Commerce to stop supporting some lawmakers following the Capitol riots Senate to be briefed on inauguration security after Capitol attack This week: Democrats barrel toward Trump impeachment after Capitol attack MORE (R-Mo.), referring to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynHarris to resign from Senate seat on Monday Cruz, Cornyn to attend Biden inauguration McConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time MORE (R-Texas), who is up for reelection, said he believes Democrats are trying to “deny any progress on police reforms that either the president or Republicans could claim credit for.”

“I think this is all about the election,” he added.

Mike Lillis contributed.