Police Overhaul Fizzles in Senate, Stymied by Wide Partisan Rift

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Congress is in a partisan standoff over how to respond to nationwide protests over the death of George Floyd in police custody, with Democrats and Republicans refusing so far to budge from their own proposals for overhauling U.S. policing practices.

President Donald Trump accused Democrats of wanting to “weaken the police” hours after they blocked Senate debate Wednesday on a GOP plan the Democrats called inadequate.

“And we can’t live with that,” the president said at a White House news conference. “So if nothing happens with it, it’s one of those things, we have different philosophies.”

The 55-45 vote in the Republican-controlled Senate was short of the 60 needed to advance the Republican legislation. The House plans Thursday to vote on Democrats’ proposal, which among other things would make it easier to sue or criminally charge individual police officers for misconduct.

“The Republican bill is an inadequate response to the decades of pain, hardship, and devastation that Black people have and continue to endure as a result of systematic racism and lax policies that fail to hold police accountable for misconduct,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat.

Schumer called for the Senate Judiciary Committee to work on bipartisan legislation, insisting that the Republicans’ “take it or leave it” plan would never pass.

The protests and unrest that unfolded after the May 25 killing of Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police have raised pressure on both parties to act. But with the Senate nearing a two-week July recess with another pandemic stimulus measure likely on the table when they return, the partisan standoff risks pushing policing off the agenda until after the November elections.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had said Democrats would have been allowed to offer amendments to the GOP legislation. He said he would leave open the option of reconsidering the matter later this year.

“The reality is nobody thought the first offer from the Republican side was going to the final product that traveled out of the Senate,” McConnell said.

Democrats are making an election-year bet that they will gain the upper hand in negotiations for a bipartisan bill by blocking the Republicans’ measure rather than trying to change it on the Senate floor. But they risk being blamed for standing in the way of progress on addressing racial bias in policing.

Earlier: State Where George Floyd Died Gives Up On Policing Legislation

Schumer earlier pointed to letters of strong opposition to the GOP legislation from the NAACP and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. The GOP bill’s lead sponsor is Tim Scott of South Carolina, the only African American Republican senator.

Shortly after the vote, the Trump White House issued statements supporting the Senate Republican legislation and threatening to veto the House Democrats’ version if it ever made it to the president’s desk.

The House bill “would deter good people from pursuing careers in law enforcement, weaken the ability of law enforcement agencies to reduce crime and keep our communities safe, and fail to bring law enforcement and the communities they serve closer together,” the veto threat said.

Both parties’ proposals seek to boost accountability and training for police officers and would make lynching a federal crime for the first time. Both would establish a federal database to track use-of-force incidents involving state and local police officers, and would withhold some federal funds from those that don’t participate.

But they take different approaches to the use of chokeholds on suspects, no-knock warrants in drug cases, other uses of force, and requirements for police to wear body cameras.

Banning Chokeholds

Democrats want to ban chokeholds, including the type that blocks blood flow to the brain and is believed to have resulted in Floyd’s death. Republicans would withhold some federal funds to states and local governments that don’t ban chokeholds restricting air flow.

A major sticking point is whether to continue protecting police officers from lawsuits. Democrats want to end the judicial doctrine of “qualified immunity,” which shields individual officers from being sued for damages unless they violate a “clearly established” constitutional right. The GOP bill, S. 3985, doesn’t address that issue.

McConnell yesterday defended leaving that out, arguing that boosting officer liability could cause them to hesitate in risky situations and could hamper police department recruiting.

“Imagine if you’re thinking about becoming a police officer and you think you’re going to be personally liable for every fracas you try to break up,” he said.

Republicans in both chambers also are balking at other portions of the Democratic proposal, including its ban on no-knock warrants in drug cases, as was used before the March police killing of Breonna Taylor, a Black woman in Louisville, Kentucky, who was shot to death by white officers. Some Republicans say officers could be at risk because some drug kingpins are heavily armed.

Both parties also disagree about when adverse information about officers should be entered into a proposed national police misconduct database.

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