Senior Senate Republicans signaled on Monday that the chamber may have to wait at least a month to take up policing overhaul legislation – a timeline that sparked criticism from Tim Scott, the GOP senator leading the effort amid demands across the country for urgent action in the wake of episodes of police brutality.
GOP leaders suggested that there is little time for the Senate to take up the bill, given that other major priorities – such as an annual defense bill – are bound to eat up precious floor time and since the policing bill has yet to be officially introduced, but they indicated after meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that they might still seek a vote before the July 4 holiday.
Senate Majority Whip John Thune said that “if everything can be pulled together” then “it would be nice to get it up and get it voted on” when asked by a reporter if McConnell wants a vote before the Fourth of July. Thune added, though, that nothing is “concrete” yet.
The comments came after top Republicans suggested earlier Monday it was unlikely the bill could move before a two-week Fourth of July recess, meaning July 20 would be the soonest such a plan could be considered.
But that prompted pushback from Scott, the lone African American GOP senator who is leading his party’s charge to respond to the aftermath of the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody in Minnesota after a white police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
“I think us waiting a month before we vote is a bad decision,” Scott said in the Capitol. “I hope we are willing to take up the legislation and let’s get on the record. And if it fails, it fails. Finding seven folks on the other side of the aisle who want to see this thing to move forward will be helpful.”
The House, which operates by majority rules and can move legislation much quicker than the Senate, plans to take up and pass the Democratic bill next week.
But if GOP senators wait until the Fourth of July and then take their two-week recess, they likely will face major criticism since there wouldn’t be any legislative action in the chamber until later in the month. Moreover, Senate Republican leaders also plan to wait until next month to consider any new recovery package to prop up the economy, meaning the chamber would have just three weeks to act before its August recess to deal with a new relief measure and an ambitious police reform bill.
Sen. John Cornyn, a member of Senate GOP leadership, said that he doesn’t think there would be enough time to consider new police reform legislation on the Senate floor before July 4, noting that the Senate will be consumed with the annual defense authorization bill for about two weeks before the holiday break. The Senate is currently considering a public lands bill and will vote on nominations this week.
“I don’t know whether there will be time” before July 4, Cornyn said. “So it may be a comeback exercise when we return in July.”
Thune earlier on Monday similarly said that given “what we have to do and the fact that it’s not ready yet, I’d be surprised” if the policing bill comes to the floor before July 4.
Thune said that could change if there’s broad enough momentum behind the soon-to-be-unveiled Senate GOP legislative proposal but added that “at this moment” the bill will be considered on the floor “probably in the July work period.”
In the face of protests across America over police misconduct and racial injustice, Republican senators have grown increasingly vocal that the party must act on police reform, a dramatic shift from just weeks ago when many wanted to keep the matter at the local level. But they have to come to a consensus position.
As a result, Senate Republicans – led by Scott – have worked to craft their own legislative proposal, but have yet to formally unveil it. Scott’s bill is not expected to be introduced until Wednesday.
Congressional Democrats have already unveiled their own proposal, a sweeping reform measure that the House is expected approve in the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday and to pass next week in the full chamber.
Major differences between the legislative proposals, however, are likely to create additional hurdles to any attempt to get legislation across the finish line in Congress and to the President’s desk.
The emerging GOP plan has a major emphasis on incentivizing states to take action, while the White House has come out against Democratic calls to change so-called “qualified immunity” in order to make it easier to sue police officers in civil court when an individual’s constitutional rights have been allegedly infringed. The Democratic plan, in contrast, has a heavy emphasis on setting national standards, such as mandates for federal uniformed officers to wear body cameras and banning chokeholds.
On Monday, Scott threw cold water on overhauling qualified immunity even after the Supreme Court declined to wade into that issue and as House Democrats demand its inclusion in policing legislation to make it easier to sue officers in civil court. He said that issue should wait until another time.
“I think we should all be interested in getting every aspect of the legislation that we can across the finish line,” Scott said. “And to those things that stand in the way – qualified immunity, decertification of officers – we should keep working until we can find a solution if we can. I’m not sure if we can on those two issues but I don’t want that to stand in the way of what we can get accomplished.”
Scott, who spoke to Trump about his plan on Sunday night, said it wouldn’t explicitly outlaw police chokeholds but would “reduce funding for agencies that do not have [policies] against chokeholds.”
“I think we are on the right page,” Scott said of him and Trump, suggesting the President’s soon-to-be-unveiled executive order would also speak to the issue of police chokeholds but with a “different bit of a spin on it.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Monday that she is confident Republicans will ultimately agree to a ban on chokeholds.
“I can’t imagine they wouldn’t have a ban on chokeholds. Let’s get reasonable,” she said of the Senate GOP proposal. Pelosi likened chokeholds to lynchings, saying that banning police officers from using them should be “the lowest common denominator” in any bipartisan policing reform bill.
“Chokehold is a lynching. It’s a strangulation. It’s a lynching,” Pelosi added.
Cornyn said he’s open to a ban on chokeholds but said that most of those decisions are being made at the local level.
“I think that’s one of the things that I would be open to but I want to make sure I’m understanding exactly what Congress’ role is relative to the conduct that occurs at the local level,” Cornyn said.
“What I’d like to do is figure out a way to make the people who are actually responsible for supervising police departments more accountable – make more of what’s happening public so that that could be handled at the local level. Because it’s hard for us to do at the national level.”
But Democrats have expressed skepticism over the Senate GOP effort with Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer saying on Monday that Senate Republicans “seem to be on a path towards taking a much, much narrower, less inclusive approach – that is wrong,” and adding, “Republicans, it seems, are going to leave much of the task up to the states.”
CNN’s Haley Byrd and Ted Barrett contributed to this report.