Senate Democrats blocked the Republican policing package Wednesday, setting up a stalemate over how Congress will address racial justice and police accountability for use of force.
The procedural vote, which would have allowed the policing bill to move forward failed 55-45, falling five votes short of the 60 needed to survive.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell voted no in a procedural move that allows him to later bring the bill back to the floor.
He said earlier this week that the issue wouldn’t be dead even if the initial vote failed.
Still, the Democrats’ rejection of the bill set up a stalemate on one of the biggest issues in the country this election year, as Mr. McConnell said the House Democrats’ police overhaul bill is dead on arrival in the Senate.
Democrats were confident, however, that Republicans would take the blame for not doing something about perceived racism and brutality at the country’s police departments.
They said they just don’t trust Mr. McConell to conduct a fair process.
“The political risk falls on Senate Republicans, not the Democrats. The failure of the Senate GOP majority to embrace major reform is just the latest in the long line of Republicans being on the wrong side of public opinion,” Brad Bannon, a strategist, told The Washington Times. “Endangered GOP Senators [facing] re-election run a serious risk of defeat if they fail to embrace comprehensive reform.”
The Republicans’ legislation stayed away from implementing national mandates on police departments, insisting they’re respecting states’ rights. Democrats accuse them of peddling a “watered-down” approach that collects data but doesn’t require real change.
Sen. Tim Scott, the sole black Republican senator and lead sponsor of the GOP’s bill, said Democrats were walking away from the table before negotiations really had begun.
“I offered as many amendments as necessary for this bill to be seen by the public in consultation with the other side,” Mr. Scott, South Carolina Republican, said. “I respect people that I disagree with. They have the right to disagree … but on this one, if you don’t think we’re right make it better. Don’t walk away.”
Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer said the bill is too fundamentally flawed to be saved by an amendment process and called it a “fig leaf.”
“Republicans came in here, dropped the bill on the floor and said take it or leave it,” the New York Democrat said.
“Mitch McConnell keeps saying you can cut the bill off when you don’t get your 60 votes. What kind of solution is that when it’s a junkie bill? When it’s a bill that doesn’t go far enough at all,” Mr. Schumer added. “Why don’t we put a good bill on the floor that can pass.”
Republicans argued there wasn’t a downside for Democrats if they allow the bill to advance, noting they have other options if they want to object later in the process.
Mr. McConnell said that by blocking further debate on the bill, the blame for any further violence would be on the Democrats.
“When our nation needs bipartisan solutions, they’re staging partisan theater. This is political nonsense elevated to an art form,” Mr. McConnell said. “The next time another appalling incident makes our nation sick to its stomachs in anger yet again, Senate Democrats can explain to the nation why they made sure the Senate did nothing.”
The GOP package ramps up requirements for police departments to report on use of force and “no-knock” warrants and provides incentives for chokehold bans. It provides grants for training resources and body cameras, with penalties for improper use of the recording devices, filing false police reports, or serious bodily injuries that lead to prosecution.
It also establishes commissions and invests in data collection to target new policies and where funds can be used.
Mr. Scott estimated there is about a 70% overlap with the Democrats’ bill, a statistic Democrats staunchly reject.
House Democrats are set to pass their policing package Thursday. The bill would create a national use of force standard, creating a national misconduct registry, and opening up officers to civil lawsuits for actions resulting from carrying out their duties by limiting qualified immunity.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said last week that she would be interested in going to a conference committee to work out a deal to combine the House and Senate bills, which would require passage of the GOP legislation.
But, on the eve of the Senate vote, she pivoted to back her Democratic colleagues in the upper chamber. She went as far as to accuse Republicans of “trying to get away with murder — the murder of George Floyd.”
The Congressional Black Caucus also urged senators to vote against the motion to proceed.
“Unfortunately, instead of engaging in a serious, bipartisan, bicameral debate to address the crisis of racial injustice in policing, the Senate is considering the Justice Act, a completely watered-down fake reform bill,” said CBC Chairwoman Karen Bass, the lead sponsor of the House bill.
President Trump late Tuesday expressed support for Mr. Scott’s bill.
“Will be great for both people of color and police – in fact, has major police support,” Mr. Trump said on Twitter. “Rebuilding trust and keeping communities safe! Hope to sign it into law ASAP!”