- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Senate Republicans offered their ante in the racism and policing debate Wednesday with a bill that would prod law enforcement to curb practices such as chokeholds and increase reporting on bad cops, as both chambers of Congress put bills to overhaul policing on a fast track for votes and a likely partisan collision course.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said his chamber would take up the bill next week and issued a challenge to Democrats who rejected the Republicans’ approach before the ink was dry.

“Our Democratic friends, if they want to make a law — and not just try to make a point — I hope they will join us in getting on the bill and trying to move forward,” Mr. McConnell said.

The package, spearheaded by Sen. Tim Scott, South Carolina Republican, ramps up requirements for police departments to report on use of force and “no knock” warrants and provides incentives for chokehold bans. It would provide grants for training resources and body cameras and would penalize improper use of the recording devices.

Republicans stayed away from imposing national mandates and said the House Democrats’ approach is too heavy-handed.

Mr. Scott, the lone black Republican senator, said incentives for police departments to change policies such as prohibiting chokeholds will likely lead to similar results to the federal ban pushed by Democrats.

SEE ALSO: Democrats police overhaul bill passes House Judiciary Committee

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, quickly rejected the Republican offer.

“The Senate’s so-called Justice Act is not action,” she said. “During this moment of national anguish, we must insist on bold change to save lives.”

The Democrat-run House can pass its bill on a party-line vote. The Republican-run Senate, however, would need bipartisan support to reach the 60-vote threshold next week to take up the bill.

Mr. McConnell said the House Democrats’ bill would be dead in the water when it reaches the upper chamber.

Demands for changes to policing policies erupted when George Floyd, a black man in Minnesota, died May 25 while in police custody. A white officer involved in the incident knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

The police officer faces a charge of second-degree murder. Three other officers at the scene were charged with abetting second-degree murder. All four lost their jobs at the Minneapolis Police Department.

SEE ALSO: Nancy Pelosi slams Senate GOP police package: ‘So-called Justice Act is not action’

Under the Republican bill, the Justice Department would have a large role in implementing new de-escalation training procedures across the country, particularly on duty-to-intervene policies that would require officers to step in when they witness excessive force.

The bill also would create two commissions. One would review the criminal justice system. The other would take a more holistic approach in reviewing conditions affecting black men and black boys in areas such as education, health care, finance and the justice system.

In an emotional speech on the Senate floor, Mr. Scott balked at a warning by Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, against taking a “token, halfhearted approach.”

“To call this a token process hurts my soul,” he said. “On the other side, they’re wanting to race-bait on tokenism while this legislation will provide resources for body cameras, for lynching, for de-escalation training.”

Mr. Scott also was marking the fifth anniversary of the shooting at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, where a white supremacist fatally shot nine black worshippers.

Mr. Durbin’s office said the senator apologized to Mr. Scott right after he heard he had offended him and that he was objecting to Mr. McConnell’s approach to the process.

At the other end of the Capitol, the House Judiciary Committee advanced Democrats’ policing overhaul bill, which explicitly bans chokeholds and no-knock warrants.

It goes further than what many Republicans have said is acceptable by proposing a national use of force standard, creating a national misconduct registry, and opening officers to civil lawsuits for actions resulting from carrying out their duties.

“If we find ourselves here again, listening to the heartbreaking testimony of another grieving family member, wondering why we did not act when we had the chance, it will be a stain on our legacy,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, New York Democrat. “We must not let that happen.”

Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the panel’s top Republican, said he hoped Democrats were serious about working on a bipartisan basis but added that Republicans were shut out of the process.

“Not one single Republican was talked to about the bill we are marking up today,” he said.

The full House is expected to pass the package next week.

The White House and Senate Republicans, though, have rejected ending “qualified immunity” for law enforcement — a key provision of the House bill.

President Trump on Tuesday issued an executive order on policing that hews more closely to the Senate’s vision on prodding law enforcement agencies to change their practices.

The order encourages police departments to adopt best practices in de-escalating confrontations with suspects, establishes a system for sharing information to track officers who have repeated complaints against them for excessive force, and creates federal incentives for police departments to deploy social workers on issues such as mental health and addiction.

While all sides agree on the need to do something in the wake of Floyd’s death, lawmakers on the Judiciary Committee struggled to come to a consensus even on points of potential compromise. Democrats shot down a series of Republican-proposed amendments.

Rep. Eric Swalwell, California Democrat, tried to prod his Republican colleagues into saying “Black Lives Matter” — a mantra and movement that activists have embraced in recent years in calling for racial justice.

“Black Lives Matter. I’m sad to say no one on the other side will say it,” Mr. Swalwell said.

But Rep. Louie Gohmert, Texas Republican, interrupted Mr. Swalwell to oblige.

“Every life is precious, God-given, and Black Lives Matter — unequivocally,” Mr. Gohmert said. “Every life is important.”

⦁ Dave Boyer contributed to this report.

• Gabriella Muñoz can be reached at gmunoz@washingtontimes.com.

• David Sherfinski can be reached at dsherfinski@washingtontimes.com.

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