Three top Senate Democrats said in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday that Senate Republicans’ policing overhaul bill is “not salvageable” — the strongest indication yet that Democrats plan to block floor debate on the issue from moving forward this week.
“We will not meet this moment by holding a floor vote on the Justice Act, nor can we simply amend this bill, which is so threadbare and lacking in substance that it does not even provide a proper baseline for negotiations,” the Democrats said.
“This bill is not salvageable and we need bipartisan talks to get to a constructive starting point,” they said.
The letter was signed by Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Sen. Kamala Harris of California.
The senators said that the GOP bill, spearheaded by Sen. Tim Scott, South Carolina Republican, doesn’t have sufficient mechanisms in place to force changes to police conduct.
“There is overwhelming opposition to the bill in our caucus,” Mr. Schumer said in a Senate floor speech Tuesday.
Mr. McConnell has said he’s interested in making a law amid demands for action on the issues of racism and police brutality in the wake of the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police last month.
Republicans have essentially dared Democrats to short-circuit the process ahead of a key test vote on Wednesday.
“Senate Republicans want to have this discussion. We are ready to make a law, not just make a point,” said Mr. McConnell, Kentucky Republican. “Tomorrow, we’ll find out whether our Democratic colleagues share our ambition, or whether they choose to duck this issue and leave the country in the lurch.”
Republicans have to attract support from at least seven Senate Democrats to thwart a potential filibuster and move the process forward.
Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, pointed out to Ms. Harris on the Senate floor that she would be effectively voting against her own anti-lynching bill if she blocks Mr. Scott’s legislation from moving forward.
Mr. Scott’s bill and a separate bill introduced by Mr. Booker and Ms. Harris both make lynching a federal crime.
“If the Democratic conference is going to prevent the Senate from actually getting on the bill, there’s no opportunity for any senator to offer amendments to improve it,” Mr. Cornyn said.
Ms. Harris, a potential Democratic vice presidential nominee, said lawmakers can’t distract Americans from the task at hand.
“We cannot pull out a specific component of this bill and leave everything else in the garbage bin,” she said.
Mr. Scott said he’s open to having an amendment process but that he doesn’t want to demonize police officers.
House Democrats have introduced their own bill that mandates bans on practices such as chokeholds and “no-knock” warrants that’s slated for a vote Thursday.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Tuesday she supports the companion legislation from Mr. Booker and Ms. Harris.
“If the Senate won’t take the Justice in Policing Act up right away, then Chairman [Lindsey] Graham should immediately schedule time in committee for us to debate this important legislation,” said Ms. Feinstein, California Democrat.