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Democrats block Senate GOP police reform bill

Jennifer Hauge joins in a protest rally at a Minneapolis police station on May 30.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Democrats on Wednesday denied Republicans the votes needed to advance the Senate GOP’s policing reform bill, casting doubt on the future of the effort as thousands of people continue to protest over the death of George Floyd and police misconduct and excessive use of force.

Sixty votes were needed to bring the GOP-backed Justice Act, sponsored by Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), up for consideration. The chamber’s 53 Republicans needed support from at least seven Democrats to proceed.

Democratic Sens. Doug Jones of Alabama and Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and independent Sen. Angus King of Maine voted with Republicans, but it wasn’t enough. The bill stalled with a vote of 55-45.

Democrats have derided the GOP bill, which focuses heavily on data collection and urging departments to change standards on when force is acceptable, as a watered-down version of their own proposal, with Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) saying Wednesday that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell “wants to show he’s doing something, and get nothing done.”

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“So much of the anger in the country right now is directed at the lack of accountability for police officers who violate Americans’ rights,” Schumer said. “As far as I can tell, the Republican bill does not even attempt one significant reform — not one — to bring more accountability to police officers who are guilty of misconduct.”

A Minneapolis police officer has been charged with murder in the killing of Floyd, an unarmed, handcuffed Black man, by kneeling on his neck for more than eight minutes. Video of Floyd pleading with the officer to move has spurred a national demand for police reform and accountability.

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) praised her Democratic colleagues for blocking a bill she said didn’t include “substantive solutions.”

“I want to thank all of our colleagues for their work today, which is to not fall into a political trap, to not take crumbs on the table when there is a hunger that America has for real solutions to a very real problem,” Harris said.

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Republicans have said their bill and the Democrats’ proposal are very similar, and argue that Democrats are foregoing progress by not approving the GOP bill. Democrats contend that the bills aren’t as similar as Republicans say.

“Why wouldn’t you take the 80% now, see if you can win the election, and add on the other 20%? You’ve got to be kidding me,” Scott said after the vote.

McConnell (R-Ky.) had offered to allow senators to offer whatever amendments they wanted, and questioned why Democrats didn’t try to modify the bill rather than halt it.

“Nobody thought the first offer from the Republican side was going to be the final product that traveled out of the Senate,” McConnell said. “What’s supposed to happen in this body is that we vote or agree to get onto a bill. And then we discuss, debate and amend it until at least 60 senators are satisfied, or it goes nowhere.”

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Schumer and the Senate sponsors of a Democratic bill, Harris and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), said too many changes were needed. They said bipartisan negotiations are needed before a bill comes to the Senate floor.

“There should be bipartisan discussions with the object of coming together around a constructive starting point for police reform,” Schumer said before the vote.

The Senate’s next steps aren’t clear.

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The House is scheduled to vote on the Democrats’ version of a policing reform bill Thursday, a sweeping measure that would make it easier to prosecute officers criminally and file civil lawsuits for misconduct.

Schumer said the Senate bill’s failure Wednesday may open the door to new negotiations.

“I believe that the Republican Party sees the handwriting on the wall. They see what the American people feel, and they know now that while the House is going to succeed in passing a bill, the Senate won’t, and that falls on McConnell’s shoulders. He’s the Senate leader. He knows how to pass the bill. He set up something here so it wouldn’t pass,” Schumer said.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) questioned if Congress is missing its moment to get something done on police reform.

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“I don’t know, I mean if we can’t do it now, I don’t know when we’ll ever do it,” he said.

He said the same disagreements with the bill would exist if it were brought before the Judiciary Committee before McConnell had brought it to the Senate, as Democrats have requested.

“It’s not a process as much as it is a political calculation that they don’t want to engage on this issue until after the election,” Graham said.

The Senate vote came shortly after the Senate approved the 200th judge nominated by President Trump: Cory T. Wilson, of Mississippi, to be U.S. Circuit Judge for the Fifth Circuit.

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“Following number 200, when we depart this chamber today, there will not be a single circuit court vacancy anywhere in the nation for the first time in at least 40 years,” McConnell said.


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