POLITICS

With Trump MIA, Senate Republicans Go It Alone On Police Reform Efforts

Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) is taking the lead in crafting a bill to address police practices following the death of George Floyd.

While President Donald Trump again tweets incendiary conspiracy theories and ignores calls for police reform, congressional Republicans are moving forward with proposals of their own aimed at addressing police brutality following the nationwide protests over George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police.

On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced he has tasked Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) with leading a group of GOP senators “that is working on a proposal to allow us to respond to the obvious racial discrimination that we’ve seen on our television screens” in recent weeks.

Scott, the only Black GOP senator, briefed his colleagues during a caucus lunch earlier Tuesday about his police reform bill, which he is hoping to release by the end of the week. While the package has similarities to legislation Democrats have rallied around in the wake of the protests, it contains several key differences.   

For example, the bill doesn’t explicitly ban the use of chokeholds or no-knock drug warrants. The Democratic proposal unveiled this week would ban the techniques outright, including the kind used by a police officer in the death of Floyd last month, as well as no-knock warrants in drug cases, a tactic that led to the death of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky, in March.

“While I might support the elimination of all chokeholds, I think the way to get there is to provide more training and more resources so the local jurisdiction has the ability to make that decision themselves,” Scott told reporters on Tuesday.

Scott’s proposal would provide funding for more body-worn cameras, and de-escalation and bias training to local police departments. It would also require the federal government to track data on the use of no-knock warrants and the use of deadly force, as well as establish a national study of police practices.

It’s unclear, however, if it has support from President Donald Trump.

Trump and his top aides have steered clear of discussion of particular police reform initiatives, making clear only that defunding law enforcement, as some activists have called for, is dangerous and not one he would support. The White House is reportedly preparing a speech on race relations written by top Trump adviser Stephen Miller, who crafted the Trump administration’s immigration plan.

On Monday, Trump suggested with no evidence that a 75-year-old protester shoved by police in Buffalo, New York, last week could be “a set up” by “an ANTIFA provocateur.” Most GOP senators ducked questions about the president’s tweet, while Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) called it “shocking.”

Scott told reporters on Tuesday that his bill is currently “on a separate track from the White House.”

There are also divisions within the GOP conference on what police reform measures, if any, Congress should tackle. Some Republicans argue it isn’t the federal government’s role to step in and tell local police what they can or can’t do. But others are more open to measures floated in recent days pertaining to specific police practices. 

“I think those ought to be gone, period,” Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) said when asked if he supported a ban on chokehold techniques.

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), the vice chairman of the Senate GOP, meanwhile, said he spoke with U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr this week about reinstating the ability of the Department of Justice to conduct reviews of local police department practices. The court-enforceable agreements that the Obama administration had used to curtail patterns of police abuse in cities like Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore were ended by Jeff Sessions, Trump’s first attorney general.

“He seemed more than willing to have some form of review in the toolbox that he could use,” Blunt said of Barr.