Senate Democrats on Tuesday called Republican police reform legislation “woefully inadequate” and threatened to block debate on the measure, a move that elicited sharp partisan sniping amid ongoing nationwide protests over police brutality.
“This bill is not salvageable and we need bipartisan talks to get to a constructive starting point,” Democratic Sens. Chuck Schumer (N.Y.), Cory Booker (N.J.) and Kamala Harris (Calif.) wrote in a letter addressed to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
Without bipartisan support in the upper chamber, the chances of a police reform bill making it to President Donald Trump’s desk are slim to none.
“There probably is no path forward in this Congress if they block debate tomorrow,” Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a member of GOP leadership, told reporters on Tuesday.
Unlike the Democratic bill, which the House is expected to pass on Thursday, the Senate GOP measure does not explicitly ban law enforcement techniques such as chokeholds and no-knock warrants. Police used a chokehold in the death of George Floyd, a Black man in Minneapolis; officers used a no-knock warrant in the incident that led to the death of Breonna Taylor, a Black woman in Kentucky.
The GOP bill would also not end qualified immunity for law enforcement, as Democrats have proposed. The legal doctrine gives police officers a broad liability shield in court, making it all but impossible to successfully sue them over claims of wrongdoing. Many Republicans are hesitant about doing away with those protections, however.
“Qualified immunity is extremely important,” McConnell explained at a press conference on Tuesday. “Imagine you were thinking about becoming a police officer and you think you’re going to be personally liable for every fracas you try to break up.”
Republicans will need at least seven Democrats to join them in order to overcome a filibuster and advance their bill, which was authored by Tim Scott of South Carolina, the lone Black Republican in the Senate, in a key procedural vote on Wednesday.
Those votes aren’t likely to materialize.
“It will never get 60 votes in the Senate,” Schumer told reporters on Tuesday, citing opposition from dozens of civil rights groups like the NAACP and the attorney who is representing the families of Floyd and Taylor.
McConnell accused Democrats of hypocrisy, especially after they had urged Senate leadership to put a bill addressing the issue on the floor by next month.
“Suddenly, our Democratic colleagues are reportedly agonizing and debating whether to let the Senate have this discussion at all or whether to kill any chance of reform legislation before it can even taxi onto the runway,” McConnell said Tuesday.
“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,” the senator added.
But Democrats rejected that argument, accusing McConnell of trying to derail efforts at police reform by forcing them to swallow a GOP bill they view as a half-hearted measure that wouldn’t bring accountability to police departments nationwide.
“For all of the pundits out there that want to entertain a conversation about whether Democrats actually want police reform: Are you kidding me?” Harris said on Tuesday.
Booker, meanwhile, expressed skepticism that McConnell would allow the GOP bill to be amended, calling his strategy a “trap” for Democrats.
“He has purposefully set up a process that cannot succeed,” Booker said of the GOP leader. “He’s the shrewdest man when it comes to this place.”