WASHINGTON – Senate Democrats on Wednesday blocked a police reform package they argue does not go far enough in implementing changes needed in the aftermath of George Floyd's death.
The measure failed 55-45, delivering a blow to the momentum on Capitol Hill to enact changes and likely lowering the chances that Congress will move on policing legislation before the November elections. The Senate needed 60 votes in order to move forward on debating the bill and possibly amending it, meaning seven Democrats would have had to join the chamber’s 53 Republicans in supporting it. Two Democrats, Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Doug Jones of Alabama, and independent Angus King of Maine voted with Republicans to start debate on the measure.
While the vote halts movement on the legislation, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has vowed to leave the door open to trying again on moving the bill forward. A timeline has not been established and it is not clear whether the Kentucky Republican will attempt to negotiate changes on the measure with Democrats before bringing it back for another vote.
The package by Sen. Tim Scott,of South Carolina, the sole Black Republican in the Senate, aims to increase transparency at police agencies while incentivizing – but not mandating – departments to use body cameras and ban chokeholds by withholding federal grant money. But Democrats argued the legislation did not go far enough and pleaded for Republicans to negotiate changes before voting Wednesday.
"I don't know what it's gonna take to wake up," Scott said during an impassioned speech on the Senate floor. "We'll move on. People will forget about it. You know what's gonna happen? Something bad – and we'll be right back here talking about what should have been done, what could have been done, why we must act now.
"I'm telling you I had this conversation five years ago," the South Carolina Republican continued. "We could do something right now."
The stalemate comes as several senators expressed concerns that blocking the measure could significantly lower the chances of a bipartisan compromise that could become law.
"Today was supposed to bring progress for an issue that is weighing heavy on the American mind," McConnell said in a speech on the Senate floor Wednesday morning, when he criticized Democrats for plans to block the package and their demands.
"They don’t want to take up the issue. They don’t want debate. They don’t want amendments," McConnell said. "They’ll filibuster police reform from even reaching the floor of the Senate unless the majority lets the minority rewrite the bill behind closed doors and in advance."
At a news conference in the White House Rose Garden, President Donald Trump accused Democrats of blocking the police reform bill “because they want to weaken our police.”
“They want to take away a lot of the strength from our police and from law enforcement generally, and we can’t live with that,” he said.
Trump said he wants to see the bill approved, “but we won’t sacrifice – we won’t do anything that’s going to hurt our police.”
Democrats pushed back, arguing there was no real path to altering the bill in a drastic way that would allow its passage in both the House and Senate and said they hoped for bipartisan talks before the bill is again brought forward.
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"I think it's a better chance than people think," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters on the chances of passing a police reform bill this Congress after the legislation failed to even reach debate.
He pointed to the ongoing protests and police reform legislation moving through the House on Thursday, things that Schumer said would "put pressure, moral pressure, political pressure, every kind of pressure on (McConnell). And he may come back and say let's negotiate a good bill."
"That's our hope, our prayer and what we will work for," Schumer said.
While the Senate is in a standstill, the House is preparing to move forward on its own competing bill on Thursday – legislation that Democrats hope will pressure McConnell and Senate Republicans to negotiate a bipartisan compromise.
The House bill, which was led by the Congressional Black Caucus, ends qualified immunity, the legal doctrine that shields police and other public officials from lawsuits if accused of misconduct. It also aims to bolster police accountability and creates a national registry to track officers with a checkered pasts and prevent them from moving from one department to another.
It also would end certain police practices, such as the use of no-knock warrants and chokeholds, which were factors in recent deaths of Black people at the hands of police.
The measure shares a number of policies with the legislation in the Senate, but the House Democrats' proposal has strict mandates they argue will lead to significant changes in policing across the nation.
Republicans have argued their proposals are similar and differences could be worked out through amendments while Democrats say the differences are too deep to be mended on the Senate floor. Instead, Democrats urged McConnell to send the legislation to committee where it could be examined fuller and be altered in a bipartisan way.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has expressed an openness to working together with the Senate to come to a bipartisan compromise on the two bills.
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McConnell acknowledged before the vote that the bill could fail to move forward on Wednesday and said he planned to try again should that happen.
Democrats' opposition is being backed by more than 100 civil and human rights organizations along with Benjamin Crump, a prominent lawyer defending both the families of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, two African Americans who were killed in altercations with police officers — deaths that sparked massive protests and put pressure on Congress and communities across the nation to reexamine policing and racism.
It's not just Democrats who are eager to make changes to the Senate bill. Several Republicans, including Sen. Mike Braun of Indiana, have offered measures that could be included in the package.
Braun's bill takes on qualified immunity, one of the key sticking points between Republicans – who did not include it in their package – and Democrats. Democrats want to end the practice altogether to serve as a message about the consequences of misconduct – Braun aims to curb qualified immunity and limit how often its used to protect officers from lawsuits.
In an interview, Braun called the Republican proposal a start but something that tackles "low-hanging fruit" and said he believed he would have the support from at least 10 senators from each party if his measure is brought forward.
"I just don't think we're leading in a way that's going to make a significant difference in the long run," he said of the Republican bill, later adding that he believed strongly that this issue would help lead to systemic changes in government.
Contributing: Michael Collins
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: George Floyd: Senate Democrats block Republican policing bill