Top Democratic senators told Mitch McConnell on Tuesday that the Republicans’ police reform bill is “not salvageable,” the latest sign that the Senate is headed for deadlock on the issue.
In a letter to the majority leader, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sens. Kamala Harris and Cory Booker demanded that McConnell bring “meaningful legislation” to the floor and argued the GOP bill McConnell is bringing up on Wednesday is not enough.
McConnell says if Democrats want to amend his proposal, they need to cough up the seven votes needed to get to 60 and break a filibuster. But Harris, Booker and Schumer said they need a bipartisan negotiation at the outset rather than simply taking up a partisan police bill — and that even amendments can’t save the legislation written by GOP Sen. Tim Scott.
“We will not meet this moment by holding a floor vote on the JUSTICE Act, nor can we simply amend this bill, which is so threadbare and lacking in substance that it does not even provide a proper baseline for negotiations,” the three senators wrote to McConnell. Scott's bill currently has no Democratic supporters in the Senate.
The note from the caucus’ leader as well as its two Black members suggests most other Senate Democrats are ready to block the GOP proposal. McConnell said on Tuesday morning that Democrats would leave the country "in the lurch" if they brought the bill down before debate even began.
"The American people deserve better than a partisan stalemate. The American people deserve for the Senate to take up this issue at this time," McConnell said. "Senate Republicans want to have this discussion. We're ready to make a law, not just make a point."
McConnell reiterated on Tuesday that if Democrats want amendment votes, they need to get on the bill.
The Democrats' letter also appears to rule out the possibility of going to conference with the House with a version of Scott’s bill, which Speaker Nancy Pelosi said was doable after the House passes its own more sweeping plan later this week. But in Senate Democrats’ view they can’t support even sending Scott’s bill to conference.
The debate comes amid a national reckoning on race and police violence after the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police and nationwide protests.
The Democrats said Scott’s bill needs more police accountability and transparency, stronger use of force standards and an end to no-knock warrants and chokeholds. Republicans’ bill creates incentives for local police departments to reform their policies to stop misconduct rather than impose stronger rules sought by Democrats.
A number of Democratic senators came out in opposition to debating the Scott bill on Monday evening after a long party conference call. The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund urged the Democratic minority to filibuster the GOP bill Monday and Democratic-aligned groups are expected to join their call.
Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.