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Senate GOP unveils policing bill that would discourage, but not ban, tactics such as chokeholds and no-knock warrants

Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) on June 17 outlined the GOP policing reform bill that would discourage, but not ban, tactics such as chokeholds and no-knock warrants. (Video: The Washington Post)

Senate Republicans on Wednesday unveiled a policing bill that would discourage, but not ban, tactics such as chokeholds and no-knock warrants, offering a competing approach to legislation being advanced by House Democrats that includes more directives from Washington.

The Republican proposal, which Senate leaders said would be considered on the floor next week, veers away from mandating certain policing practices, as the Democratic plan does.

Instead, it encourages thousands of local police and law enforcement agencies to curtail practices such as chokeholds and certain no-knock warrants by withholding federal funding to departments that allow the tactics or do not submit reports related to them.

Congress is divided over the legislative remedies to police brutality months before the election. Even before the GOP bill was unveiled, Democratic leaders said it fell short of the sweeping action they say is expected by a public grappling with unrest over race and policing after the high-profile police killings of unarmed black men, including George Floyd in Minneapolis.

The 106-page legislation requires local law enforcement agencies to report all officer-involved deaths to the FBI — an effort pushed by Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), who is spearheading the GOP bill, since 2015 — and it encourages broader use of body-worn cameras for officers.

It would also make lynching a federal hate crime, establish a commission that would lead a comprehensive review of policing tactics to establish best practices for officers and encourage de-escalation training.

“If you support America, you support restoring the confidence that communities of color have in institutions of authority,” Scott said at a news conference Wednesday. “If you support America, that means you know that the overwhelming number of officers in this nation want to do their job, go home to their families. It is not a binary choice. This legislation encompasses that spirit.”

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Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Scott and other leading Senate Republicans touted the bill at a morning news conference and urged Democratic senators — whose help would be needed to advance the measure — to at least allow a floor debate to proceed when GOP leaders tee up the legislation next week.

“We’re serious about making a law here,” McConnell said. “This is not about trying to create partisan differences. This is about coming together and getting an outcome.”

House Democrats are moving forward with a legislative package that would strictly ban police chokeholds, make it easier for victims of police violence to sue officers and departments and create a national database of police misconduct, among other provisions.

Key Senate Democrats said the Republican legislation fell far short of adequately reforming law enforcement practices that they say need a dramatic overhaul. But Democrats declined to say whether they would resort to delaying tactics to prevent a debate.

“This is not a dynamic of perfect and good. It is not sufficient,” said Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.). “It is literally not sufficient to meet the problem. And that has to be the standard.”

Democrats, led by Harris and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) in the Senate, are instead pushing for passage of the House Democratic bill that is expected to advance in that chamber’s Judiciary Committee later Wednesday, preparing it for a floor vote next week.”

“What I’m simply telling members of my caucus having good faith discussions is, this bill is woefully inadequate,” Booker said. “It will not stop us from living this nightmarish cycle, and we need to make sure we’re doing things that actually end this crisis.”

The White House has signaled that key portions of the House Democratic bill go too far, such as limiting legal liability in a way that would make it easier for police officers to be sued for misconduct. Revising “qualified immunity” is off the table, the White House has said.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said the administration “fully” backs the Senate GOP legislation and “every element of it.”

“It’s a great bill,” McEnany said at a press briefing Wednesday. “It’s more great action from Republicans, and we hope we can have bipartisan support.”

Still, prospects for reaching common ground in the coming weeks remain unclear. Neither bill is bipartisan, and there are few, if any, substantive cross-party discussions going on that are aimed at reaching a compromise.

Democrats move ahead on expansive policing legislation after Floyd’s death

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) also said the Senate GOP bill falls well short of her chamber’s effort: “The Senate’s so-called Justice Act is not action.”

During Wednesday’s news conference, Scott, the Senate’s only black Republican, argued that there is a lot of overlap in the party’s approaches. If the bill gets blocked from even being considered on the floor, Scott said, “that means politics is more important than restoring confidence in communities of color and the institutions of authority.”

“Every lever of government wants change, and most of us want about 70 percent of the same change,” he said. “We achieve some of the same ends by our approach.”

He cited chokeholds as an example, saying the GOP bill is “by default a ban” because of the threat of taking away federal funding.

He said Senate Republicans want to collect more data on no-knock warrants before making the kind of sweeping policy changes that House Democrats have proposed. Scott, who on Tuesday met privately with family members of police shooting victims at the White House and in his Capitol office, said the families “believe the bill is helpful.”

“Does it take it to the level that every family member wants it to? I think the answer is probably not,” Scott said. “Does it get us much closer? According to the words I heard from the family members in both meetings [on Tuesday], the answer is yes.”

During his floor remarks, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) gave no clear signal about whether Democrats would attempt a filibuster.

“This is not (about) letting the perfect be the enemy of the good,” he said. “This is about making the ineffective the enemy of the effective.”

Under pressure to act, President Trump rolled out an executive order Tuesday aimed at offering new federal incentives for police departments to boost training and to create a national database to track officer misconduct.

The Justice Department will use key grants to encourage local police departments to establish certain “best practices.”

Regarding chokeholds, the executive order seeks to bar them “except in those situations where the use of deadly force is allowed by law.”

At the GOP news conference, Rep. Pete Stauber (R-Minn.) was introduced as the bill’s point person in the House. Stauber is a retired police lieutenant from Duluth who was shot in the head while off-duty more than two decades ago.

“The communities around this country are not wrong in their calls for justice,” Stauber said, while stressing that the “overwhelming” number of police officers are good people.

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