Senate Democrats on Tuesday called Republican police reform legislation “woefully inadequate” and threatened to block debate on the measure, a move that elicited partisan sniping from both sides of the aisle amid ongoing nationwide protests over police brutality.
In a letter addressed to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer (N.Y.), as well as Sens. Cory Booker (N.J.) and Kamala Harris (Calif.), called on Republicans to produce a “meaningful” bill aimed at bringing accountability to law enforcement.
“This bill is not salvageable and we need bipartisan talks to get to a constructive starting point,” the senators wrote.
Unlike the Democratic bill, which Harris and Booker co-authored, the GOP measure does not explicitly ban law enforcement techniques such as chokeholds and no-knock warrants. Police used a chokehold in the death of George Floyd, a Black man in Minneapolis; officers used a no-knock warrant in the incident that led to the death of Breonna Taylor, a Black woman in Kentucky.
The GOP bill would also not end qualified immunity for law enforcement, as Democrats have proposed. The legal doctrine gives police officers a broad liability shield in court, making it all but impossible to successfully sue them over claims of wrongdoing.
In a speech on the Senate floor on Tuesday, Booker called the GOP bill “unacceptable.” He warned that the lives of Black Americans were on the line and that lawmakers would later regret not trying to enact broader reforms.
The Senate is expected to vote Wednesday on a procedural motion that would open debate on the GOP bill, which was authored by Tim Scott of South Carolina, the lone Black Republican in the Senate. Republicans will need at least seven Democrats to join them in order to overcome a filibuster and advance the bill. McConnell, however, has not committed to allowing any amendments to the legislation.
The Kentucky Republican blasted Democrats for threatening to block debate over police reform after calling on Republicans to put a bill on the floor by next month.
“Suddenly, our Democratic colleagues are reportedly agonizing and debating whether to let the Senate have this discussion at all or whether to kill any chance of reform legislation before it can even taxi onto the runway,” McConnell said Tuesday in a floor speech.
“Tomorrow, we’ll find out whether our Democratic colleagues share our ambition, or whether they choose to duck this issue and leave the country in the lurch,” the senator added.
But Democrats rejected that argument, accusing McConnell of trying to derail efforts at police reform by forcing them to swallow a GOP bill they view as a half-hearted measure that wouldn’t bring accountability to police departments nationwide.
“For all of the pundits out there that want to entertain a conversation about whether Democrats actually want police reform: Are you kidding me?” Harris said on Tuesday.
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.
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