WASHINGTON (AP) — Congress is at a standoff over policing legislation, as Senate Democrats prepare to block a Republican proposal Wednesday as inadequate, leaving the parties to decide whether to take on the hard job of negotiating a compromise or walk away despite public outcry over the killings of Black Americans.
The impasse threatens to turn the nationwide protests over the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others into another moment that galvanizes the nation but leaves lawmakers unable to act. Common ground is not out of reach. A new Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll shows almost all Americans support some degree of criminal justice changes.
“This is a profound moment, it is a moral moment,” said Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., a co-author of the Democrats’ proposal. “The call is for us to act.”
Yet Congress, as it has so many times before when confronted with crisis — on gun control or immigration changes supported by broad segments of the population — is expected to stall out, for now. Lawmakers are hesitant to make moves upsetting to voters as they campaign for the fall election. And President Donald Trump, facing his own reelection, is an uneven partner with shifting positions on the types of changes he would accept from Capitol Hill.
Ahead of Wednesday’s vote, Trump tweeted his support for the GOP bill. He said it would be “great for both people of color and police.” Trump tweeted, “Hope to sign it into law ASAP!”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell acknowledged Wednesday’s vote tally may fall short. If so, he vowed to try again, hoping to pass legislation before a July 4 holiday recess.
“This is not about them or us,” said Sen. Tim Scott, the only Black Republican in the Senate and author of the GOP bill.
He said it’s about young people and others, “who are afraid to jog down the street or get in their car and drive.” During a GOP lunch Tuesday, Scott played for colleagues the racist voice mail messages he has recently received, according to a Republican granted anonymity to discuss the private meeting.
The GOP’s Justice Act would create a national database of police use-of-force incidents, restrict police chokeholds and set up new training procedures and commissions to study race and law enforcement. It is not as sweeping as a Democratic proposal, which mandates many of the changes and would hold police liable to damages in lawsuits. There are similarities on some issues, lawmakers say, but also vast differences.
The Democrats are lining up high-profile and wide-ranging support for their bill. Hundreds of celebrities, actors, musicians and industry leaders including Rihanna, RZA, Elon Musk and mayors from cities nationwide signed on to a support letter obtained by The Associated Press and being released Wednesday.
Civil rights leaders and the Congressional Black Caucus urged a no vote on the GOP bill.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and top Democrats signaled they would oppose the Republican bill as “not salvageable,” as they demand negotiations on a new, bipartisan package with more extensive changes to law enforcement tactics and accountability aligned with their own Democratic bill.
As talks potentially continue, Democrats are trying to force Republicans to the negotiating table to strengthen Democrats’ hand. The House is set to approve the Democrats’ bill later this week. The two bills, the House and Senate versions, would ultimately need to be the same to become law.
Neither bill goes as far as some activists want with calls to defund the police and shift resources to other community services.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has indicated she is eager to enter talks with the Senate, a signal the door is not closed to compromise.
But in a CBS News Radio interview Tuesday, Pelosi said Republicans need to step up with a better bill. “They were trying to get away with murder, actually — the murder of George Floyd.”
The comment drew sharp rebuke and calls from Republicans for her to apologize.
“We’re ready to make a law, not just make a point,” McConnell said as he opened the Senate on Tuesday. He said Americans “deserve better than a partisan stalemate.”
Political risks of inaction are high, as the public wants to see policing changes after nearly a month of constant demonstrations nationwide, in cities large and small, forcing a worldwide reckoning over law enforcement and racial injustice.