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After Senate Democrats Block GOP Bill, Gridlock Threatens To Stymie Police Reforms


As signaled on Tuesday, Senate Democrats rejected a Republican police reform proposal on Wednesday, calling it “inadequate” and demanding input on any bill, which may portend further partisan gridlock as the House’s more comprehensive proposal is set for a vote on Thursday.


Led by Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), the only Black Republican in the Senate, the draft Justice Act called for data collection on use of force and created incentives for police to ban chokeholds, with Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) deeming the proposal in a letter “so threadbare and lacking in substance that it does not even provide a proper baseline for negotiations.” 

House Democrats meanwhile will vote on their police reform proposal, the Justice in Policing Act, which outright bans the use of chokeholds and also reforms the qualified immunity doctrine that gives police officers substantial protection from lawsuits, the latter of which has been deemed a nonstarter by some Senate Republicans and the White House.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) could bring the GOP bill back for a re-vote after changing his initial vote, but Republicans would likely need to open up negotiations with Democrats or take on the House proposal if it passes.

McConnell insisted, however, “The House version is going nowhere in the Senate,” signalling a potential stall in passing police reforms that protesters and the majority of Americans are demanding, as found by a AP-NORC poll.

Before the Wednesday vote, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said, “I’m not really all that interested in negotiating with hostage takers,” and suggested Democrats could propose amendments to the bill, but Senate Democrats argue it’s “not salvageable.”

Following the vote, Scott said, “we’re playing small ball, we’re playing for those in the insulated chambers,” while Schumer expressed optimism and said, “Many of us will be talking with our Republican colleagues about a path forward,” according to CNN.

Chief Critics

Schumer, Booker and Harris’ letter laid five reasons they consider the GOP proposal to be lacking but especially highlighted the lack of accountability standards. “The Justice Act, which you are rushing to the floor for a vote, does not contain any mechanism to hold law enforcement officers accountable in court for their misconduct. We repeat, in a moment calling for police accountability, the Justice Act, your proposed answer to this crisis, does not contain any mechanisms to hold law enforcement officers accountable in court for their misconduct.”

Key background

Protests calling for substantive changes in policing were sparked by the death of George Floyd, a 46-year old Black man who died after a police officer knelt on his neck for roughly nine minutes. Some local governments have taken action, from banning chokeholds, to “defunding” by cutting police budgets and investing in community programs, to outright committing to “disbanding” departments and rebuilding public safety forces that will incorporate service workers, as is the case in Minneapolis.

Big Number

94%. That’s the share of Americans who say the criminal justice system needs some form of change, according to an AP-NORC poll. While 25% believe only minor changes need to be made, 40% believe major fixes need to occur, while 29% want a complete overhaul of the system.

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