Congress is hitting an impasse on policing legislation, as key Senate Democrats on Tuesday opposed a Republican proposal as inadequate, leaving the parties to decide whether to take on the hard job of negotiating a compromise or walk away despite public outcry over the killings of Black Americans.
The standoff threatens to turn the nationwide protests over the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others into another moment that galvanizes the nation but leaves lawmakers unable to act. Still, common ground is not out of reach. A new Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll shows almost all Americans support some degree of criminal justice changes.
“This is a profound moment, it is a moral moment,” said Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., a co-author of the Democrats’ proposal. “The call is for us to act.”
Yet Congress, as it has so many times before when confronted with crisis — on gun control or immigration changes supported by broad segments of the population — is expected to stall out, for now. Lawmakers are hesitant to make moves upsetting to voters as they campaign for the fall election. And President Donald Trump, facing his own reelection, is an uneven partner with shifting positions on the types of changes he would accept from Capitol Hill.
Ahead of a test vote Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell acknowledged it may fall short. If so, he vowed to try again, hoping to pass legislation before a July 4 holiday recess.
The Republican bill’s author, Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, warned against a partisan, political debate that chisels away confidence in the nation’s institutions.
“This is not about them or us,” said Scott, the only Black Republican in the Senate. It’s about young people and others, he said, “who are afraid to jog down the street or get in their car and drive.”
The GOP’s Justice Act would create a national database of police use-of-force incidents, restrict police chokeholds and set up new training procedures and commissions to study race and law enforcement. It is not as sweeping as a Democratic proposal, which mandates many of the changes and would hold police liable to damages in lawsuits. There are similarities on some issues, lawmakers say, but also vast differences.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and top Democrats signalled they would oppose the Republican bill as “not salvageable,” as they demand negotiations on a new, bipartisan package with more extensive changes to law enforcement tactics and accountability aligned with their own Democratic bill.
The Democrats are being backed by the nation’s leading civil rights organizations and the lawyer, Benjamin Crump, representing the families of Floyd and Taylor, two African Americans whose deaths in police interactions sparked worldwide protests over racial bias in policing.
“The Black community is tired of the lip service,” Crump said in a statement.
As talks potentially continue, Democrats are trying to force Republicans to the negotiating table to strengthen Democrats’ hand. The House is set to approve the Democrats bill later this week. The two bills, the House and Senate versions, would ultimately need to be the same to become law.