Senate Democrats Vote to Block Debate on JUSTICE Act, Dimming Prospects for Police Reform
How do you feel about Senate Democrats blocking debate on the JUSTICE Act?
by Causes | 6.24.20
What’s the story?
- Senate Democrats voted to defeat a procedural motion that would’ve allowed the upper chamber to debate and consider amendments to a police reform bill known as the JUSTICE Act that was introduced by Republicans led by Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC).
- The 56-44 vote went mostly along party-lines, as Republicans and Sens. Doug Jones (D-AL), Angus King (I-ME), Joe Manchin (D-WV) voted in favor of the motion to bring up the bill for debate & amendments, while the rest of the Democratic caucus voted to block further debate on it.
- Once the motion failed, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) changed his vote from “yes” to “no” so that he would have the ability to call the motion up for another vote, bringing the final tally to 55-45.
- The motion required 60 votes to succeed, which means that four more Democrats would’ve needed to vote in favor for debate to continue and amendments to be considered.
What’s next for police reform in the Senate?
- Immediately after the vote closed, McConnell indicated that he strongly supports the effort and may call up the motion for a re-vote at any time if progress is made and more Democratic senators express a willingness to start debate & consider amendments.
- If there are subsequent votes on the motion and those votes fail like the first, that could spell doom for efforts to enact police reform legislation in the 116th Congress, and potentially beyond as has been the case with other politically challenging issues.
- The most viable path for police reform to become law is still for the Senate to pass an amended, bipartisan version of the JUSTICE Act; the House to pass Democrats’ Justice in Policing Act; and the two chambers to form a conference committee that negotiates a compromise between the bills that can pass both chambers and be enacted by President Donald Trump.
- That being said, even if the Senate fails again it’s still conceivable it could reach a compromise based on recent history. When the Senate was considering the “phase 3” coronavirus relief bill known as the CARES Act, Democrats blocked procedural votes on two occasions (both of which were also cloture motions on the motion to proceed) but the Senate eventually struck a deal and passed the bill on a 96-0 vote.
What are senators saying?
- Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) offered the following statement on the floor after Democrats blocked the vote:
“Today we lost, I lost, a vote on a piece of legislation that would’ve led to systemic change in the relationship between the communities of color and the law enforcement community. We would’ve broken this concept in this nation that somehow, some way, you have to be either for law enforcement, or for communities of color. That is a false binary choice. It’s just not true. This legislation spoke to the important issues that have brought us here today. We wouldn’t be here if it were not, as Senator Perdue alluded to, for the death of another African-American man, George Floyd. His murder is the reason why the country has given us the opportunity to lead, to lead! And my friends on the other side just said “no.” Not no to the legislation. They just said no.
And why am I saying that they didn’t just say no to the legislation? It’s because along the way I sat down with many of them and said, “well, what do you need?” And Senator Schumer sent a letter telling, I believe it was to Senator McConnell, there were five things in the legislation that needed to be improved. And I said let’s give them the five amendments. I sat down with more senators, and they said, “well, wait, it’s not just five, there’s twenty.” I said, “How about 20 amendments?” And they walked out. You see this process is not broken because of the legislation. This is a broken process beyond that one piece of legislation. It’s one of the reasons why communities of color, young Americans of all colors, are losing faith in the institutions of authority and power in this nation.”
- Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), a moderate Democrat who voted against further debate, released a statement on Twitter which read:
“This moment in our history is too important for political games. Passing legislation to reform policing and save lives requires a genuinely bipartisan approach. A process without bipartisan negotiations from the start will not pass the Senate, and risks further dividing Americans instead of bringing us together. Elected leaders in both parties must put down the heavy burden of partisanship and work together to heal our country and deliver on the promise of a more perfect union. Today’s vote must be the beginning, not the end, of this process; I remain committed to getting things done, and will continue working with my friends on both sides of the aisle to address systemic racism, strengthen and protect our communities, and hold accountable bad actors in law enforcement who make it harder for good police officers to do their jobs safely.”
— Eric Revell
(Photo Credit: Center for American Progress Action Fund via Flickr / Creative Commons)
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