What's the Status of Police Reform in Congress? Scott & Bass Continue Talks, But No Sign of Breakthrough
Do you support Congress reaching a bipartisan compromise on police reform?
by Causes | 8.28.20
- Both chambers of Congress considered police reform legislation this summer, although lawmakers haven't reached an agreement on a path to a compromise bill. In the Senate, Democrats voted to block debate on a Republican proposal known as the JUSTICE Act on June 24th, while the House passed a Democratic bill called the Justice in Policing Act on June 25th with a mostly party-line vote.
- There are considerable similarities between the two bills, but also some significant differences. While it’s unclear at this time whether lawmakers will be able to reach a compromise, it’s certain that bipartisan support and the backing of President Donald Trump will be necessary for the police reform push to succeed & a bill to be enacted.
UPDATE 8/28/20 (5:30pm EDT) ― Sen. Scott references ongoing talks with Rep. Bass, but no clear breakthrough on police reform.
- In an interview with CBS on Thursday, Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) said he’s “still at the table working with Karen Bass and other members of the [Congressional Black Caucus] on police reform,” and that the recent officer involved shooting in Kenosha, Wisconsin which sparked deadly rioting underscores that action on police reform will save lives:
“The truth is we have made tremendous strides in the right direction. We can save lives by not allowing the issue of police reform to become a political issue. It has to be an issue where people of good intention come together and solve problems.”
- It’s unclear whether the discussions between Scott and Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA) that have continued since July will result in a floor vote on a compromise police reform bill, or whether such a bill could attract the support needed to pass the Senate with bipartisan backing and be signed into law by President Donald Trump.
- Scott is the lead sponsor of Senate Republicans’ JUSTICE Act, which gained the support of three Democratic senators, but needed a “yea” vote from four more to reach the requisite 60 vote threshold when it failed 56-44.
- Senate Democrats voted to block debate and amendment votes on the JUSTICE Act because they were demanding a vote on House Democrats’ Justice in Policing Act, which passed on a mostly party-line vote of 236-181, with three Republicans in favor and the rest opposed.
- If lawmakers can agree on a bipartisan police reform bill, it’s questionable whether Congress will be able to advance the legislation before the election of what will be a busy September session as Congress tries to avert a government shutdown at the end of the month and potentially end the impasse over coronavirus relief.
- The Senate is expected to return on Tuesday, September 8th, while the House’s next scheduled day in session is Monday, September 14th, and both chambers are likely to go on a recess lasting until after Election Day once the September work period ends.
- There's also no guarantee that the current Congress will pick up the issue after the election. Some House Democrats have advocated for waiting until 2021 because there isn't enough time, and because they could do something more robust working with the leverage of an incoming Biden administration and a Democrat-controlled Senate.
UPDATE 6/25/20 (9pm EDT) ― House passes George Floyd Justice in Policing Act on mostly party-line vote.
- The House passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act on a 236-181 vote that went mostly along party-lines.
- Only three Republicans ― Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Will Hurd (R-TX), and Fred Upton (R-MI) ― voted in favor. The House’s lone Libertarian, Rep. Justin Amash (L-MI), joined 180 Republicans by voting “nay”.
- Republican lawmakers attempted to amend the Democratic bill with their version of police reform, known as the JUSTICE Act, using a motion to recommit but the effort failed 180-236 with opposition from all Democrats, Amash, and Reps. Warren Davidson (R-OH), Andy Harris (R-MD), and Thomas Massie (R-KY) who voted "nay" because it would've amended Democrats' bill.
- It’s unclear what the next steps for police reform will be in Congress. Both the bills offered by House Democrats & Senate Republicans gained a modicum of bipartisan support, but neither appears to have the support needed to gain the support of 60 senators.
UPDATE 6/24/20 (8pm EDT) — House readies police reform vote after Pelosi doubles down on accusing Republicans of “trying to get away with murder, actually — the murder of George Floyd.”
- The House is expected to vote on Democrats’ police reform bill, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, on Thursday.
- The vote comes amid a controversy sparked by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) on Tuesday, when she said the following in an interview with CBS News Radio:
“For something to happen, they’re going to have to face the realities of police brutalities, the realities of the need for justice in policing, and the recognition that there’s many good people in law enforcement, but not all. And we have to address those concerns. So, when they admit that, and have some suggestions that are worthy of consideration ― but so far they were trying to get away with murder, actually ― the murder of George Floyd.”
- Pelosi wasn’t pressed on her accusation in the interview despite the broad bipartisan condemnation of Floyd’s killing, and the fact that ultimate responsibility for his murder lies solely with the officers involved. When asked in a Wednesday interview by MSNBC whether she would apologize after Republicans demanded an apology, Pelosi replied:
“Absolutely, positively not. The fact is, people say, I think you, frankly, in the press have given them far too much credit for a bill that does nothing. They’re saying, “Well you have your bill, they have theirs,” yeah, our bill does something, theirs does nothing.”
- Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer was asked on Wednesday about the speaker’s comment, and said “Pelosi has answered that question herself, and what she said is fine with me.”
- As for Democrats’ police reform bill, it’s unclear whether it will receive any significant bipartisan support. The White House has issued a veto threat for the bill, saying it goes too far and will “deter good people from pursuing careers in law enforcement” and “weaken the ability of law enforcement agencies to reduce crime and keep our communities safe”.
UPDATE 6/24/20 (1:30pm EDT) — Senate Democrats block debate on police reform legislation:
- Senate Democrats voted to block the procedural motion that would've allowed for further debate & amendment votes on the JUSTICE Act.
- The motion to start debate & move to the consideration of amendments failed on a 56-44 vote, with 60 votes required. All Republicans voted in favor, as did Sens. Doug Jones (D-AL), Angus King (I-ME), and Joe Manchin (D-WV). All other Democrats voted no.
- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) changed his vote from "yes" to "no" so that he can have the ability to recall the motion for another vote if progress is made on the issue. He hasn't yet announced another vote on the motion.
UPDATE 6/23/20 (7pm EDT) ― Senate schedules first procedural vote on JUSTICE Act:
- The Senate is set to take its key procedural vote on the cloture motion on the motion to proceed to the JUSTICE Act on Wednesday shortly after noon.
- The vote will occur after a confirmation vote on the nomination of Judge Cory Wilson to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
You can read more about Wednesday’s procedural vote to start debate on police reform & open the door to amendments on the JUSTICE Act here.
UPDATE 6/23/20 (12pm EDT) ― Senate Democrats threaten to block debate, amendments on JUSTICE Act:
- Senate Democrats, led by Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), are threatening to use the “legislative filibuster” on Wednesday to block Republicans’ effort to begin debate and eventually vote on amendments to police reform legislation known as the JUSTICE Act.
- Wednesday’s vote on the cloture motion on the motion to proceed will require 60 votes, which means that if all 53 Republicans vote in favor at least 7 Democrats will have to join them for debate to continue. If it succeeds, there will still need to be a vote on the motion to proceed, potential amendments, and at least one more cloture motion before the Senate can get to a passage vote. The process likely would continue through the end of this week and into next week.
- Minority Leader Schumer said there is no point in starting debate on the bill or voting on amendments “because the bill needs such large scale and fundamental change, there is no conceivable way that a series of amendments strong enough to cure the defects in the bill could garner 60 votes either.” Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) took to the floor to add:
“I intend to vote against a motion to proceed tomorrow. I also intend to vote for a motion to proceed with real reform. I’m not against a motion to proceed. We should proceed. Let’s proceed with action, not gestures.”
- Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said from the floor that Democrats are backing away from the debate that they asked for earlier this month and are threatening to stymie any chance at bipartisan reforms:
“Earlier this month, Senate Democrats were telling everyone who would listen that we’d be derelict in our duty if we did not have police reform legislation on the floor of the Senate this month. But then, as soon as the junior Senator for South Carolina actually published something concrete, their tune has changed rather sharply. And now, suddenly, our Democratic colleagues are reportedly agonizing and debating whether to let the Senate have this discussion at all or whether to kill any chance of reform legislation before it can even taxi onto the runway. The American people deserve better than a partisan stalemate... Tomorrow, we’ll find out whether our Democratic colleagues share our ambition, or whether they choose to duck this issue and leave the country in the lurch.”
UPDATE 6/22/20 (5:15pm EDT) ― McConnell tees up first vote on police reform:
- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) filed the cloture motion on the motion to proceed to the JUSTICE Act on Monday afternoon.
- This means that the initial procedural vote will occur on Wednesday unless the Senate reaches a unanimous agreement to vote sooner, because cloture motions have to "ripen" for an intervening day (in this case Tuesday) before they can receive a vote.
- The vote will require 60 votes to "invoke cloture" and limit further debate on the motion to proceed to 30 hours. That means if all 53 Republicans vote in favor, at least 7 Democrats will need to join them for debate to continue on the police reform measure.
- If the cloture motion on the motion to proceed succeeds, there will still need to be a vote on the motion to proceed, potential amendments, and at least one more cloture motion before the Senate can get to a passage vote. The process would likely continue to the end of this week, and could perhaps run into next week.
- McConnell said the following in remarks on the floor when he introduced the motion:
"So Senator [Tim] Scott [R-SC] and Senate Republicans want to make a law. The president and the administration want to make a law. And even the Democratic House leadership apparently would be happy to see a conference committee. The only group left in Washington D.C. that are reportedly agonizing over whether to block a discussion of police reform or let it proceed seem to be our Senate Democratic colleagues. I hope that whatever strange political calculations are making this difficult for our friends across the aisle will yield to common sense and to the American people's hunger for progress. We will find out when we vote later this week."
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) countered that the Republican bill is "piecemeal and half-hearted" because it "leaves major loopholes when it comes to chokeholds and only requires more data on no-knock warrants."
Countable's original post from Saturday, June 20th appears below.
What’s the outlook for the bills entering the week?
- In its current form, Senate Republicans’ JUSTICE Act (S. 3985) is unlikely to gain the bipartisan support needed to become law, but GOP senators have said they’re willing to allow amendments & open debate once the Senate votes to formally begin debate on the bill. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said:
“And our Democratic friends, if they want to make a law, and not just try to make a point, I’ll hope they’ll join us in getting on the bill, and trying to move forward in the way the Senate does move forward when it’s trying to actually get an outcome, rather than just sparring back and forth, which you all have seen on frequent occasions by both sides.”
- Democratic senators are divided on the issue of agreeing to have a debate on the bill. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said the JUSTICE Act is a “bad bill” but that his caucus is “figuring out what to do with it.” Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) ― one of the most moderate Democrats in the Senate ― told Politico, “I would like to think that we would all be inclined to start this debate.” On the other hand, the more progressive Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) said that “I want to work with people that want real police reform unlike the people that want to just act like they’re doing reform.”
- The procedural vote in question, on what’s known as a cloture motion, requires 60 votes to succeed, so all 53 Republicans and at least 7 Democrats would have to vote in favor.
- The JUSTICE Act’s lead author, Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), said that if the bill fails at the initial vote then “folks will have less confidence in this nation because we missed a moment.” But if Democrats agree to start debate on the bill and amendment votes are scheduled, there’s a possibility that the Senate could reach a compromise.
- Several Republicans have expressed a preference for changes that would move the JUSTICE Act closer to the House Democrats’ bill: Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) is introducing legislation that would ban no-knock search warrants & Sen. Mike Braun (R-IN) is drafting legislation to reform qualified immunity, both of which could be among the amendments considered. Any amendment votes would likely be subject to a 60 vote threshold.
- In its current form, Democrats’ Justice in Policing Act (H.R. 7120) will easily pass the House, where only a simple majority is needed to pass. There are 431 representatives currently seated and only 216 votes are needed to pass the bill, but 230 Democrats have cosponsored the bill, which passed the Judiciary Committee last week on a party-line 24-14 vote.
- However, no Republicans in either chamber of Congress have expressed support for the Democrats’ Justice in Policing Act, and GOP senators have said it’s a “non-starter” and “going nowhere in the Senate” in its current form.
- If there is ultimately a bipartisan compromise, it’s likely that the House & Senate will have passed different versions of police reform legislation, and Congress will form a conference committee to resolve the differences before both chambers vote again. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) told reporters that we would “like to end up in conference” but that will depend on the course of action Schumer takes in the Senate.
When will the votes happen?
- In the Senate, the timing of the initial procedural vote ― on a cloture motion on the motion to proceed ― will depend on when Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) files the cloture motion, which requires an intervening day to “ripen” before it can receive a vote, which requires 60 votes to succeed.
- So for example, if he files the cloture motion on Monday, the motion would spend Tuesday “ripening”, and a vote to invoke cloture (i.e. limit further debate to 30 hours) on the motion to proceed to the bill would occur Wednesday.
- If cloture is invoked successfully, there could be up to 30 hours of debate before a vote is held on the motion to proceed, which only requires a simple majority. But the Senate could grant unanimous consent to hold it sooner or pass the motion to proceed without a roll call vote.
- If the Senate can get past the first cloture motion and the motion to proceed, another cloture motion would have to be filed, ripen, and be successfully invoked with 60 “yeas” before votes on amendments or final passage could occur. All of which means that barring the Senate reaching a bipartisan deal to speed things up through a unanimous consent agreement, the Senate may not wrap up its work on the JUSTICE Act until the week of June 29th (if it gets that far).
- On the other side of the Capitol, the scheduling of the House’s vote is much more straightforward, and a vote on Democrats’ Justice in Policing Act will occur Thursday, June 25th.
— Eric Revell
(Photo Credit: iStock.com / Andrei Stanescu)
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