Both sides rushed to draft legislation in response to the murder of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police and the nationwide protests that followed. But they don’t seem to be in the mood to commit in the midst of a pandemic and with an election in just over four months.
Democrats oppose legislation written by Senator Tim Scott (RS.C.) as inadequate, saying it lacks the strong federal orders necessary to encourage police departments to change their actions on racial profiling and the use of the force. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (DN.Y.) called the Republican bill “profound and fundamentally flawed” on Monday.
But Democrats also say they cannot support progress on the bill without McConnell’s promises that they will get votes on the amendments to impose more police oversight. So while Schumer and McConnell could still agree on amendment votes that pave the way for arguments in the room, it’s also possible that the debate on police reform will crash and burn in the Senate even before take off.
“There is no clarity in what Senator McConnell is offering us,” said Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). “I have faced similar offers from Senator McConnell in the past, in [coronavirus legislation], and the best thing that happened is that we did not accept your offer. We demand a bipartisan approach. “
So far, there have been few substantive bipartisan negotiations on a compromise bill. McConnell said Monday: “For anyone who really wants to legislate, it shouldn’t be a difficult decision” to move the bill forward.
Filibuster legislation is not without risks for Democrats. Schumer and his party had urged McConnell to have a debate on police reform in the wake of Floyd’s murder, and could invite criticism for not trying to improve the Republican bill and instead reject it.
“I hope that any bizarre political calculation that makes this difficult for our friends across the aisle will yield to the common sense and hunger for progress of the American people,” McConnell said.
Democrats also face little pressure from outside groups to vote to advance the legislation. The NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund sent a letter Monday to McConnell and Schumer, asking for a “no” vote and citing concerns that the Republican bill is not going far enough to hold police officers accountable .
The Democratic Senate Caucus held a long conference call on Monday discussing the best way forward. Many Democrats later said they would vote against moving the bill forward, including Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who is on Schumer’s leadership team, and Senator Dianne Feinstein of California.
“I’m not going to vote on a mediocre bill,” said Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii.
Republicans have offered vague assurances that they would allow amendments to their legislation, which fails to prohibit strangulation and do not touch orders and instead creates incentives for police departments to reduce the use of force. In theory, Democrats could vote to move the bill forward and then offer their broader legislation as an amendment.
But Democratic leaders were skeptical Monday that they would even have that opportunity. Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, one of Schumer’s deputies, said she will vote no and said McConnell should “form a bipartisan group to resolve something that is significant.”
“When he doesn’t want to do anything, he does this kind of thing,” Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown said of McConnell’s strategy. He called McConnell’s proposal little more than a “talking point.”
Democratic Senator Doug Jones of Alabama is likely to endorse the bill’s advance, and Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia might as well. Moderate Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona has not said how she will vote.
In the House, Democrats will pass their own legislation with little or no Republican support later this week. The House Democrats bill prohibits raids and strangleholds without hitting and makes it easier to take legal action against police misconduct.
Republicans oppose the Democratic bill, in particular provisions that change the “qualified immunity” provisions to allow police officers to be sued. President Donald Trump on Twitter urged Republicans to unite against the House Democrats’ plan, claiming that it “will destroy our police.”
If the Senate cannot agree to even begin debating Scott’s bill, it will be a brutal blow to Congress’s hopes of passing police reform during a moment of national race judgment. The chamber is slated for a two-week recess in July and will then focus primarily on writing a new coronavirus relief package.
Some Senate Republicans said that calls by President Nancy Pelosi for a bicameral conference committee could bring Senate Democrats to the table. But the Republican Party seemed to be preparing for Democrats to vote against her proposal.
“Unfortunately, it would be a business as usual these days,” said Senator Roy Blunt (Republican).