A Republican-authored police reform bill failed in a Senate test vote Wednesday after Democrats opposed the bill on the basis it did not go far enough – sparking a furious war of words on the floor and marking an apparent impasse just weeks after George Floyd’s death led to calls for new legislation.
The procedural vote on whether to start debate was 55-45; it needed 60 votes in order to proceed. Republicans had 53 votes, but not enough Democrats joined them.
This effectively freezes police reform in Congress for now, even if the House approves its own measure on Thursday.
“The Senate was supposed to officially take up police reform on the floor today. Instead, our Democratic colleagues are poised to turn this routine step into a partisan impasse,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., fumed, saying the bill was a “first offer” and could have been altered during the debate process.
Lawmakers in the House and Senate have proposed bills amid the movement to reform policing in the wake of Floyd’s death last month in Minneapolis police custody.
The GOP legislation, spearheaded by Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., would beef up requirements for law enforcement to compile use of force reports. It would also establish the Breonna Taylor Notification Act to track “no-knock” warrants. To focus on ending chokeholds, it encourages agencies to do away with the practice or risk losing federal funds.
However, it does not ban chokeholds outright and does not end qualified immunity – two items that Democrats have demanded.
Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., said the bill “guarantees that the cycle of violence in our country, the cycle of abuse of civil rights, the cycle of death that has moved so many Americans will continue.”
Of those senators who caucus with Democrats, only West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, Alabama’s Doug Jones, and Maine’s Angus King voted to proceed.
Scott took to the Senate floor after the vote to blast Democrats for what he saw as opposition fueled by politics, not policy.
“They cannot allow this party to be seen as a party that reaches out to all communities in this nation,” he said.
Ahead of the vote, McConnell praised the bill and accused Democrats of coming up with a “bizarre new ultimatum” by threatening to block the bill from being debated.
“They don’t want a debate, they don’t want amendments, they’ll filibuster police reform from even reaching the floor of the Senate unless the majority lets the minority rewrite the bill behind closed doors in advance,” he said.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., shot back at McConnell, and said the bill was the “legislative equivalent of a fig leaf, something that provides a little cover but no real change.”
“Don’t get on your sanctimonious horse, Leader McConnell. You have none of the civil rights leaders behind you,” he said.
It’s the latest fiery language from lawmakers on the passionate debate. On Tuesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Republicans are “trying to get away with murder, actually – the murder of George Floyd.”
Fox News’ Marisa Schultz and Chad Pergram contributed to this report.