Washington — Senate Democrats blocked a Republican-backed police reform bill from moving forward on Wednesday afternoon, as lawmakers reached an impasse over how to respond to weeks of protests against racial injustice and police brutality.
The GOP bill, known as the JUSTICE Act, failed to move forward by a vote of 55 to 45. Sixty votes were needed to begin debate on the measure. Democratic Senators Joe Manchin, Doug Jones and independent Angus King joined Republican senators in voting to proceed.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was among those who voted against bringing the bill to a debate, a move that allows him to bring up the bill again. He told reporters Wednesday that he plans to offer a motion to reconsider the measure.
The legislation appeared doomed to fail earlier in the week when Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, joined by Senators Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, sent a letter to McConnell calling the bill
“There is no escaping the fact that the Senate Republicans have drafted a policing bill that is deeply, fundamentally and irrevocably flawed,” Schumer said in a speech on the Senate floor on Tuesday.
The, spearheaded by Senator Tim Scott, would require increased reporting of use of force by police officers and no-knock warrants, provide grants for law enforcement to be equipped with body cameras and require departments to maintain and share officer disciplinary records. It also would establish several commissions, including one studying the conditions affecting black men and boys and one reviewing best practices for police departments.
Republicans argue that Democrats could have voted to open debate on the bill and introduced amendments to address their issues. McConnell said Tuesday that “there is literally no harm in debating this important topic.” GOP Senator John Cornyn questioned Harris on the Senate floor as to why Democrats would not vote to bring the bill to the floor for debate.
“If the Democratic conference is going to prevent the Senate from actually getting on the bill, there’s no opportunity for anyone, any senator, you or any one of us to offer amendments to improve it,” Cornyn said. Harris replied that she would prefer to negotiate in open meetings of the Judiciary Committee.
“We have asked that there would be a meaningful discussion of the Justice in Policing Act in that committee, none has occurred. So, if we’re going to talk about process, let us look at all the tools that are available to well-intentioned well-meaning legislators if the goal is actually to solve and address the issue at hand. I’ve seen no evidence of that,” Harris said, referring to the police reform bill.
The House bill would reform qualified immunity, the legal shield that protects law enforcement officers from many civil suits. It would also ban no-knock warrants in drug cases and police chokeholds.
There is some overlap between the Republican and Democratic bills. The House measure would also require that federal law enforcement officers wear body cameras, and limit transfer of military-grade equipment to state and local law enforcement. Both bills include a section making lynching a hate crime. Republican Senator Mike Braun hashis own bill to reform qualified immunity.