Democrats and Republicans will face off next week on dueling police reform measures that address racial bias and questionable tactics by law enforcement.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, is expected to bring up the Justice Act for a vote Wednesday, but Democrats have not indicated whether they will vote for it and have the ability to block the bill.
The measure would ban federal law enforcement from using chokeholds in most instances and would, for the first time, require state and local governments to report data annually on use of force by police that causes serious injury or death, including the use of “no-knock” warrants.
The measure would provide money and incentives for the use of body cameras and would increase penalties for falsified police reports.
Republicans are eager to pass the measure, and it enjoys broad support from GOP lawmakers in both chambers. House Republicans introduced a companion measure.
They are calling on Senate Democrats to vote to advance the measure to the floor, where there would be an opportunity for amendments and a final compromise.
“If we don’t have the votes on a motion to proceed, that means that politics is more important than restoring confidence in communities of color in the institutions of authority,” said Sen. Tim Scott, a South Carolina Republican and author of the Justice Act.
But Democrats say the GOP measure falls short on the reforms necessary to curb police misconduct and racial bias against black people.
The nation has experienced weeks of civil unrest and social justice protests after several African Americans died in police custody.
Senate Democrats said they favor a measure House Democrats introduced earlier this month that eliminates chokeholds and the use of no-knock warrants and calls on states to stop racial profiling.
“The harsh fact of the matter is, the legislation my Republicans friends have put together is far too weak and will be ineffective at rooting out this problem,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, said. Schumer said the GOP bill would need “dramatic improvements” to earn Democratic support.
Democrats are racing to pass their own measure in the House, where they control the majority. Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, announced the House will take up the Justice in Policing Act beginning Thursday.
Democrats renamed their measure after George Floyd, an African American man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
There is overlap between the Republican and Democratic measures, but the biggest difference may prove the most difficult to bridge.
Democrats in their legislation would eliminate the qualified immunity that protects law enforcement from lawsuits related to their actions while on the job.
Some Republicans are interested in reforming the qualified immunity for the police, but few support the Democratic plan to eliminate it.
Republicans fought to remove the provision in the House last week when the Judiciary Committee advanced it to the floor. President Trump said he won’t back a bill that eliminates qualified immunity.
One Senate Republican, Mike Braun of Indiana, said he’d introduce a measure to reform qualified immunity for police. Braun does not support eliminating it but said it should be changed to increase accountability.
Democrats say other provisions in the GOP bill do not go far enough.
The Republican measure only seeks to obtain data on “no-knock” warrants, while the House bill would eliminate them in drug cases at the federal level and penalize local governments who do not ban it in their own police departments.
Democrats also oppose the GOP chokehold provision, which would permit use of the tactic by officers facing lethal force.
“I don’t understand,” Schumer said. “If you want to ban chokeholds and other brutal tactics that have killed black Americans in police custody, why don’t you just ban them?”
Democratic leaders declined to say on Friday whether they plan to at least vote to advance the GOP measure when it reaches the Senate floor next week.
If all Republicans vote to begin debate on the bill, an additional seven Democrats are needed to reach the 60-vote threshold required for advancing legislation. Without Democratic support, the Senate GOP bill will stall.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggested last week she is interested in working with the Senate GOP on a compromise after the chamber passes a bill, suggesting Senate Democrats should not block it. That would allow the two chambers to work out differences between the two measures and pass something that could be signed into law.
“It’s so important,” the California Democrat said. “The American people care so much. They know so much. They are watching.”