sen tim scott
Sen. Scott breaks down GOP police reform bill
02:52 - Source: CNN
Washington CNN  — 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Wednesday promised quick action in the chamber on a newly unveiled GOP police reform proposal, paving the way for a clash with Democrats who were quick to criticize the proposal and call for major changes to the measure.

“What I’m announcing today is after we do two circuit judges who are queued up either this week or early next week, we’re going to turn to the Scott bill,” McConnell said, referring to Senate GOP legislation led by Republican Sen. Tim Scott. McConnell made the remarks during a Capitol Hill press conference to formally unveil the legislation.

McConnell effectively challenged Democrats to decide whether to block the legislation from advancing or allow it to come up for debate on the floor.

“I’m going to file cloture on the motion to proceed and our Democratic friends, if they want to make a law, and not just try to make a point, I hope they’ll join us in getting on the bill and trying to move forward in the way the Senate does move forward when it’s trying to actually get an outcome,” McConnell said.

The announcement from McConnell sets up competing action in the House and Senate on different police reform proposals. Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee advanced their own sweeping policing overhaul measure late Wednesday night, setting up a full House vote on the legislation scheduled for next week.

Several key Democratic senators signaled on Wednesday that they would agree to let the Senate GOP police bill come to the floor for debate if Republican leaders agree to allow votes on their amendments. But virtually all Democrats are critical of the bill and say major changes are needed, the signs of the uphill prospects the bill faces in the Senate.

Republicans need 60 votes to open up debate on the measure, meaning at least seven Democrats need to join the GOP. The vote on whether to bring the bill to the floor is expected to occur next week. Republicans need 60 votes to open up debate on the measure, meaning at least seven Democrats need to join the GOP, and that vote on whether to bring the bill to the floor is expected next week.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer on Wednesday criticized the newly unveiled Senate GOP policing proposal, saying that it “does not rise to the moment.”

But he suggested that Democrats are willing to work with Republicans to negotiate changes.

“I will be talking with my caucus about the best way to strengthen it. This bill will need dramatic improvement,” Schumer said.

Key Democrats open to beginning debate on GOP policing bill

Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia said “sure,” when asked if he’d vote for the debate to proceed with commitments for votes on amendments. “I would think we could get 100 votes (to begin debate). How would you not vote to get on the most important piece of legislation if we all have an open debate, process and amendments?”

Sen. Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat and member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the Scott bill “falls far short of what this moment requires.” But he said that Democrats should put out a list of a “series of substantive amendments” and if the GOP allows to have votes on them, they should vote to proceed to begin debate.

“If there were an agreement to have a vigorous debate that could include adoption of a whole series of amendments that would bring it up to the level of the bill that I’m on, sure I’d be open to that,” Coons said.

Senate Majority Whip John Thune, a South Dakota Republican, said his party would allow an “open amendment process” so Democrats could offer amendments, though he said those details still need to be worked out. “I think the best, most certain way to have that bill open up to amendment, is to get on it. Once we are on it, the negotiation begins.”

Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin called on McConnell to commit to a process that could lead to changes to the Senate GOP police reform bill. Durbin said, “I don’t know the answer to that” when CNN asked if the Democrats would block the bill on the initial procedural vote to prevent the measure from coming to a floor debate. That vote could happen next week.

“I think we really need an understanding from Sen. McConnell: Is this a high noon moment, one and done moment, take it or leave it moment? Or does he truly want to sit down and legislate – sit down and try to find common ground, or open up an opportunity on the floor for amendments to be taken? We don’t know any of the answers to that question,” Durbin said.

Sen. Tim Scott, at right, a South Carolina Republican, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell take the podium for a news conference Wednesday on Capitol Hill.

What’s in the bill

Key differences between the legislative proposals from Republicans and Democrats are likely to create hurdles to any attempt to get legislation across the finish line in Congress and to the President’s desk.

The GOP plan has a major emphasis on incentivizing states to take action. 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. Scott’s proposal does not include an outright ban on chokeholds but Scott argued earlier this week “we get very, very close to that place” by blocking federal grant funds to departments that don’t ban chokeholds themselves.

During Wednesday’s press conference, Scott spoke of the importance of increased data collection to improve policing practices.

“We have to have the right information so that we can direct our resources as a federal government to making sure that the outcomes lead to safer officers and safer suspects,” Scott said during Wednesday’s press conference where he, McConnell and other GOP senators wore masks, removing them to address reporters.

The Democrats’ plan also bans no-knock warrants, the type of warrant that ultimately led to the wrongful shooting death of Breonna Taylor. Scott’s plan in contrast does not ban no-knock warrants but instead requires states to provide data on when they use no-knock search warrants.

“We don’t have any information around no-knock warrants, so for us to start a conversation with banning no-knocks doesn’t sound like a solid position based on any data because we don’t have that data. Once we have the information, we can then turn to the training that is necessary to de-escalate situations,” Scott said.

The discussion comes after tensions within the Senate GOP conference spilled out into public view earlier this week over the potential timeline for dealing with the legislation.

Scott expressed concerns on Monday after some senior Senate Republicans signaled that the chamber may have to wait at least a month to take up the policing legislation, warning, “I think us waiting a month before we vote is a bad decision.”

Some Democrats won’t commit to voting to proceed to bill

Three Democrats who are up for reelection – Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Doug Jones of Alabama and Gary Peters of Michigan – wouldn’t commit to voting to proceed to the bill because they said they had yet to fully review the Scott measure. But they didn’t rule out allowing the debate to advance, either.

“The fact is that Republicans put something out there and I think it’s a really positive sign so we just need to examine and talk,” Jones said. “The one I think is that the people of America want to see something positive done, and I’m hoping that we can accomplish that.”

Two Democratic senators who are lead sponsors of their party’s bill, Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey, wouldn’t say one way or the other if they’d vote to block the Scott bill from advancing.

“Frankly it gives lip service to the problem and there’s just no teeth in it,” Harris said of the Scott bill. “It literally – what he is proposing – would not save a life.”

Asked if she would vote to block the bill from advancing to the floor, Harris said: “I haven’t figured that out yet.”

Booker similarly said: “I am not going to the thinkings of procedural moves at this point.”

But Booker, who is close friends with Scott and has been talking with him about the plan, was critical of the GOP proposal.

“We put the bill forward that will stop the national nightmare that we’ve seen where so many African-Americans have been killed by police,” Booker said. “We have a bill that has real consequences, community standards when laws are broken, their bill does not. We have a bill that sets standards for our country of things we will tolerate and their bill does not, does not do that enough and we should be fully debating our bill.”

This story has been updated with additional developments Wednesday.

CNN’s Haley Byrd and Lauren Fox contributed to this report.