A GOP-backed police reform bill stalled in the Senate Wednesday amid historic protests against police brutality across the country, leaving the issue in limbo just one month after George Floyd’s gruesome death at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis.
Democrats filibustered the modest Republican bill that they viewed as insufficient to bring real accountability and change to police departments and police practices nationwide.
They blamed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for advancing a narrow measure, authored by Sen. Tim Scott (S.C.), the lone Black Republican in the Senate, which wouldn’t ban outright chokeholds and no-knock warrants.
The bill’s failure means it is unlikely that any police reform legislation will pass Congress this session.
Police used a chokehold in the death of 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 Louisville, Kentucky.
Scott’s bill would have left in place qualified immunity for police officers, making it all but impossible to sue them successfully over claims of wrongdoing.
Republicans, meanwhile, accused Democrats of standing in the way of reform by blocking debate on an issue they had called for in the wake of Floyd’s death.
“This is political nonsense, elevated to an art form,” McConnell said Wednesday ahead of the vote, calling Democrats’ objection to the bill “theater.”
Wednesday’s vote was procedural and would have merely opened deliberations on the floor. The measure required 60 votes ― including at least seven Democrats ― for ultimate passage.
Only three members of the Democratic caucus joined Republicans in voting to advance the bill: Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Doug Jones (Ala.) and independent Sen. Angus King (Maine).
The logjam left both sides pointing fingers.
“Don’t get on your sanctimonious horse, Leader McConnell. ... You have none of the civil rights leaders behind you,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Wednesday, citing opposition to the bill from dozens of civil rights groups such as the NAACP, as well as the attorney who is representing the families of Floyd and Taylor.
“Republicans came in here, dropped the bill on the floor and said, ‘Take it or leave it,’” Schumer added, arguing that the bill stood little chance of being amended.
The House is expected Thursday to vote on and pass a more far-reaching police reform bill, which includes an outright ban on chokeholds and no-knock warrants.
But Republicans refused to take up a version of that bill in the Senate, saying that Democrats wish to inappropriately “federalize” police reform issues.