The Senate is bracing for a partisan showdown Wednesday on Republicans’ policing package, with Democrats threatening to kill the bill before it gets to a full debate on the floor.
Senate Democrats delivered their verdict that the GOP plan is “not salvageable” and called for a new start on bipartisan negotiations.
“Because the bill needs such large-scale and fundamental change, there is no conceivable way that a series of amendments strong enough to cure the defects in the bill could garner 60 votes,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said on the Senate floor. “So no bill will pass as a result of this ploy by Sen. McConnell.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he doesn’t see a downside for Democrats if they allow the bill to advance, noting they have other options if they want to object later in the process.
“I read that several of them said, ‘We don’t trust Mitch McConnell.’ They don’t have to trust me because the way the process works is quite simple,” the Kentucky Republican said. “It takes 60 votes to pass a bill like this in the Senate … if they don’t feel like they’ve had fair treatment, their remedy is to refuse to finish the bill.”
“There’s literally no harm done by debating this important topic,” he added.
Killing the Republican bill would set up an impasse, as Mr. McConnell has declared the House Democrats’ police overhaul bill dead in the water when it reaches the upper chamber.
Senate Republicans need at least seven Democrats to join them to cut off a filibuster and move the legislation forward.They accused Democrats of trying to score political points rather than hammer out new laws to address police racism and brutality against minorities.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, whose chamber is voting on its version Thursday, has signaled she would like to see the two competing packages follow the traditional legislative route and work out a deal in a conference.
Sen. Tim Scott, the South Carolina Republican who led the GOP’s effort, highlighted issues the two bills had in common, including reporting requirements for police misconduct and added federal resources for police departments.He estimated there was a 70% overlap between the two versions.
Differences between the bills — particularly bans on chokehold — are more similar than they appear, he said.
“Now if it’s more important for us to score political points and talk about the legislation and what’s missing and not actually come to the table to improve the legislation means we’re only talking about politics, and we’re not actually talking about human beings,” said Mr. Scott, the sole Black Republican senator.
“If they won’t even start it, that tells me that this is already over,” he added.
Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, one of two Black Democratic senators and a leading co-sponsor of the Democrats’ version, said the Republicans’ comparison of the bills is “fundamentally not true.”
Republicans have stayed away from implementing national mandates on policies, insisting they’re respecting states’ rights, while Democrats accuse them of peddling a “watered-down” version that collects data but doesn’t require real change.
But even as partisan division threatens the GOP’s package, Sen. Mike Braun introduced a bill that would limit liability protections for police officers, which he hoped could lay the groundwork for a bipartisan deal.
“The bill will be out there as a template that everybody can look at,” the Indiana Republican told The Washington Times. “Because I don’t think the issue is going to go away. And I’m proud to have my name on it as a first attempt to do something other than kick the can down the road.”
Qualified immunity is a provision that protects police from civil lawsuits if they violate individuals’ constitutional rights while acting in their official capacity.
It’s a key sticking point between the parties, with Democrats arguing it is vital to holding bad cops accountable and many Republicans arguing it could undermine good cops’ ability to respond to dangerous situations.
Mr. Braun’s legislation seeks a middle ground by limiting protections but not leaving officers entirely exposed. His bill would make departments as well as individuals responsible for “egregious violations.”
“I think it’s a job that has an inherent risk, kind of complexities to it that you cannot eliminate it completely,” he said. “But in instances like George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks and Breonna Taylor — those would be examples where there needs to be accountability.
“I think if we don’t get to the heart of transparency and accountability — you can do it as a smart way — we may not solve the issue in the long term,” he said.