WASHINGTON (AP) – Congress is at odds with police law as Senate Democrats prepare to block a Republican proposal on Wednesday as inadequate, forcing the parties to decide whether to take on the arduous task of negotiate a compromise or run away despite public outcry over the murders 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 will stir the nation, but allow lawmakers to do nothing. Common land is not out of reach. A new Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll shows that nearly all Americans support some degree of criminal justice.
“This is a profound moment, it is a moral moment,” said Senator Cory Booker, D.N., co-author of the Democrats’ proposal. “It’s up to us to act.”
Yet Congress, as it has so often done when faced with a crisis – over arms control or immigration changes supported by broad segments of the population – will postpone for the time being. Legislators hesitate to worry voters while campaigning for the fall election. And President Donald Trump, faced with his own reelection, is an unequal partner with mixed views on the kinds of changes he would accept from Capitol Hill.
Prior to Wednesday’s vote, Trump tweeted his support for the GOP bill. He said it would be “great for both colored people and police.” Trump tweeted, “Hope to sign it into law as soon as possible!”
Mitch McConnell, majority of the Senate, acknowledged Wednesday’s vote may be falling short. If so, he promised to try again, hoping he could approve vacation before July 4.
“This is not about them or us,” said Senator Tim Scott, the only black Senate republican and author of the GOP law.
He said it is about young people and others, “who are afraid of jogging down the street or getting in their car and driving.” At a GOP lunch on Tuesday, Scott played for colleagues the racist voicemail messages he recently received, according to a Republican declared anonymous to discuss the private meeting.
The GOP’s Justice Act would create a national database of police violent incidents, limit police chokeholds, and establish new training procedures and committees to study race and law enforcement. It is not as drastic as a democratic proposal, which makes many of the changes mandatory and would make the police liable for damage in court cases. According to some legislators, there are similarities on some points, but also major differences.
The Democrats draw up a high-profile and broad support for their bill. Hundreds of celebrities, actors, musicians, and industry leaders, including Rihanna, RZA, Elon Musk, and mayors from cities across the country, signed up for a support letter obtained by The Associated Press and released Wednesday.
Civil Rights leaders and the Congressional Black Caucus pushed for a no vote on the Bill.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and the top Democrats indicated they would be against the Republican bill that it “cannot be saved” as they demand negotiations for a new two-pronged package with more radical changes to law enforcement tactics and liability in accordance with their own democratic bill.
As talks may continue, Democrats are trying to force Republicans at the negotiating table to strengthen the Democrats’ hand. Parliament will approve the Democrats bill later this week. The two bills, the House and Senate versions, should ultimately be the same to become law.
Neither law goes as far as some activists want with calls to expose the police and transfer funds to other community services.
House speaker Nancy Pelosi has indicated that she would like to speak to the Senate, a signal that the door is not closed to compromise.
But in an interview with CBS News Radio Tuesday, Pelosi said Republicans should 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 on Republicans to apologize.
“We are ready to make a law, not just to make a point,” said McConnell when he opened the Senate on Tuesday. He said Americans “deserve better than partisan stalemate.”
The political risks of passivity are high, as the public wants to see changes in the police after nearly a month of constant demonstrations across the country, in cities and towns alike, necessitating a global bill on law enforcement and racial injustice.
Associated Press writers Laurie Kellman and Andrew Taylor contributed to this report.
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