Stay up to date with notifications from The Independent

Notifications can be managed in browser preferences.

Police reform: Philosophy — not politics — has prevented Congress from reaching a deal

Analysis: Like immigration, gun control, and abortion, this is an area where Republicans and Democrats are fundamentally, uncompromisingly at odds, writes US political correspondent Griffin Connolly

Griffin Connolly
Wednesday 24 June 2020 23:47 BST
Trump attacks 'radical left' at rally saying they 'hate' American values and history

Policing reform in Congress is on life support after Senate Democrats blocked a bill on Wednesday from GOP Senator Tim Scott from moving onto the amendment phase.

Just two Democrats — Senators Doug Jones of Alabama and Joe Manchin of West Virginia — and Senator Angus King, a Maine Independent who caucuses with Democrats, voted with Republicans, not enough to clear the 60-vote filibuster threshold.

After a contentious week leading up to the bill’s ultimate failure, each party has accused the other of childish political gamesmanship.

The way Republicans tell it, Democrats simply could not stomach working with the GOP in a presidential election year on meaningful policing reform legislation that could improve Donald Trump’s standing with those calling for change.

“It is clear to me it is an unpardonable sin for Democrats to work with Republicans to try to solve a problem that may benefit Donald Trump,” Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham said in a statement after Mr Scott’s bill failed with 55 senators voting to move forward with it and 45 senators voting it down.

The way Democrats tell it, Mr Scott’s bill was so hollow it could hardly be considered a legitimate starting point for negotiations — and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell brought it to a procedural vote knowing it would fail.

“This bill lost because it was woefully inadequate. It never would have passed, and McConnell provided no path to improve it. It was going to lose the minute he put it together. The more cynical among us would say that’s why he did it,” Democratic minority leader Chuck Schumer said.

The reality could be much simpler and, perhaps, more depressing: Democrats and Republicans simply do not see eye to eye on how — and how much — to reform police departments in the US.

While Mr Trump has fired off multiple tweets calling for “LAW & ORDER!” in the weeks since George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis, sparking nationwide protests that in some cases have devolved into riotous behaviour, Democrats have demanded fundamental changes in how police departments operate, report their use of force, and are held legally liable for violent or deadly force.

While some Republican senators — including Mr Graham — have acknowledged systemic racism or racial bias is a problem within the US law enforcement system, at least two of Mr Trump’s top advisers have denied the existence of such phenomena.

'It's one of those things'

The president, of all people, summed up the divide over police reform legislation best at a Rose Garden press conference on Wednesday.

“We have different philosophies,” he said. “If [a deal] doesn’t happen, it’s one of those things.”

One of those things.

One of those policy areas — like immigration, gun control, and abortion — where Republicans and Democrats are fundamentally, uncompromisingly at odds.

Meanwhile, House Democrats are expected to vote this week on their own policing reform legislation that would reform “qualified immunity laws” to make it easier to sue police and other government agencies for misconduct, a proposal the Trump administration has dismissed as non-negotiable.

Democrats' bill would also change the language of section 242 of title 18 of the US criminal code to make it easier to prosecute law enforcement officers for misconduct, another non-starter for Republicans.

While the parties have similar proposals to incentivise police departments to ban choke holds and no-knock warrants for drug cases, they are at odds over the various definitions of choke hold manoeuvres and whether or not to ban them at the federal level.

Any overlap?

Republicans and Democrats do overlap on some elements of policing reform.

Both bills include:

  • an anti-lynching measure aimed at protecting minorities from hate crimes;
  • provisions to either incentivise or mandate local law enforcement entities to report use-of-force incidents to a nationally centralised database at the Justice Department; and
  • incentives for de-escalation and racial bias training.

Mr Trump maintained on Wednesday that despite the obstacles so far — the failure of Mr Scott’s bill and the fact House Democrats’ bill crosses multiple red lines for the administration — he and Senate Republicans sincerely want to work across the aisle to get something done.

But the balance of his comments indicated just how far each party must travel to reach a deal.

Democrats, the president contended, want to “weaken our police,” and “we can’t live with that,” he said.

Wednesday’s vote has no doubt stalled momentum in the Senate for policing reform, with multiple key Republicans signalling they don’t see how they can come to an agreement with Democrats if Mr Scott’s is not even considered a reasonable starting point for negotiations.

“All I can say is, I don’t see a way forward,” Mr Graham said.

Democrats sounded more optimistic tones, leaving the door open for some sort of compromise bill within the coming weeks.

“This does not mark the end of the road,” Mr Schumer said.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in