Now that Democrats have blocked a GOP police reform bill in the Senate, they are betting on public pressure to force Republican leaders to take up their own reform measure once it passes the House this week.
“I believe the Republican Party sees the handwriting on the wall,” Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters after 44 of 47 Democrats voted to block the bill. “They see what the American people feel, and they no doubt see that while the House is going to succeed in passing a bill, the Senate won’t.”
The House is slated to take up the Democratic measure beginning Thursday. It includes many overlapping provisions with the Republican bill, but Democrats say their measure would more significantly reform law enforcement practices to end racial bias and police brutality against black people.
The Democratic bill, for example, would eliminate qualified immunity for police officers, which would leave them open to lawsuits based on their actions while on the job. It also would ban no-knock warrants at the federal level and would tie funding to their prohibition by local police departments.
In a press conference following the vote Wednesday, Democrats said every major civil rights organization opposes the GOP bill and favors the Democratic version.
Democrats believe protests and other civil unrest in America will help push Republicans to accept the reforms they proposed.
Civil unrest following the death of George Floyd in police custody has included both peaceful and violent protests as well as looting and destruction of monuments. Floyd, who was black, died after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
“I just want to say to the activists, stay at it,” Sen. Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat, said after voting to block the GOP bill. “Everything that we’re doing right now has been given strength because of your demands for justice. And I hope that the pressure stays. I hope in all 50 states, hundreds of thousands of Americans, we continue to pressure, because, as was said by a great abolitionist, there’s no struggle, there will be no progress.”
The House bill is expected to pass, in part because only a majority is needed. The Senate requires 60 votes to even begin debate on the measure, and Republicans control only 53 votes. The GOP bill fell short by four votes on Wednesday. All but three Democrats voted against it.
Schumer blamed Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for bringing the GOP bill to the floor without committee consideration, which would have given Democrats an opportunity to amend the measure with a simple majority. Senate floor amendments require 60 votes.
“I think now there’s a real chance that he failed at his gambit that the people in his caucus, and, more importantly, the people of America will put pressure, moral pressure, political pressure, every kind of pressure on him, and he may come back and say, ‘Let’s negotiate a good bill,’” Schumer said. “That’s our hope, our prayer, and what we will work for.”
McConnell told reporters he is not giving up on police reform even though Democrats blocked the GOP bill. The measure can be reconsidered on short notice any time this year.
On the Senate floor, Democrats and Republicans debated police reform after the GOP bill failed to advance.
Democrats insisted they are eager to work on a compromise bill and pass it this summer.
“This discussion is not over unless people want it to be over,” Sen. Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat, said.
Kaine said he recognized features in the GOP bill that Democrats could accept and said the Senate could work out a compromise before the August recess.
“There are two good faith bills that have been introduced dealing with police reform,” Kaine said. “I see virtues in both. I favor the Democratic bill, but that does not mean that I don’t see virtues in the Scott bill.”
But many top Republicans, including Scott, believe Democrats are disingenuous in their offer to work together and instead want to block a bill until after the election, which would deny President Trump and the GOP a legislative victory and would give Democrats a chance to control the bill if Joe Biden wins the White House.
Scott said he offered Democrats votes on an unlimited number of amendments to shape the bill more to their liking, but Democrats refused, arguing the 60-vote threshold needed to pass any amendments would make it impossible for them to win any changes.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, who is the chair of the Judiciary Committee, said Democrats fear the protesters and the most liberal faction in their party, which includes prominent freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and several other House newcomers who have identified themselves as the Squad.
“Every elected Democrat in office, and every Democrat running for office, lives in fear of the mob and the Squad,” Graham said Wednesday. “The idea of working with Donald Trump to accomplish objectives to help America is a one-way ticket to political exile.”