Democrats have blocked Republican police reform efforts that they say do not go far enough, casting doubt on whether Congress will agree on new restrictions in response to the killing of George Floyd ahead of November’s presidential elections.
Republicans, led by Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, introduced a reform bill last week focused more on federal funding for police training than a rival Democratic bill, which included a more stringent ban on police chokeholds.
On Wednesday, Senate Democrats voted against beginning a debate on the Republican bill, effectively shelving the proposals. Chuck Schumer, the Senate’s top Democrat, said Republican plans were the “legislative equivalent of a fig leaf” that “provides a little cover but no real change”.
“The harsh fact of the matter is the bill is so deeply, fundamentally and irrevocably flawed, it cannot serve as a useful starting point for meaningful reform,” Mr Schumer added.
Democrats introduced their own legislation earlier this month that would ban police chokeholds, create a national registry to track police misconduct, make it easier for prosecutors to seek criminal and civil penalties for police abuse, and outlaw certain “no-knock” warrants, which allow law enforcement to forcibly enter properties.
In March, Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency medical technician, was shot dead by police in Louisville, Kentucky, after officers forced their way into her apartment.
The Republican bill had overlaps with the Democratic proposals, but in addition to the focus on police training, it lacked a ban on “no-knock” warrants.
Republicans hit out at the Democratic manoeuvre. Mr Scott, the sole black Republican senator, said he was “amazed” that Democrats “refused to vote for legislation that would provide real life solutions for the American people”.
“If my colleagues had issues with the legislation, they should have accepted that we were willing to give them multiple amendment votes,” he added. “I hope that the American people see how the Democrats blocked solutions from coming to their communities for the sake of partisan politics.”
The Democrat-led bill will be debated in the House of Representatives on Thursday, and is widely expected to pass the Democrat-controlled chamber. It is unlikely to be taken up by Mitch McConnell, the Republican and Senate majority leader.
The Business Roundtable, a group of chief executives of large US companies, issued a statement to express disappointment in the inability of the Senate to begin debate on the Republican bill, but urged legislators to use the House proposal to restart the reform process.
“For significant reform to be accomplished, both the Senate and House must work across party lines to move bills that can be debated, negotiated, voted on and ultimately signed into law,” the group said.
President Donald Trump separately signed an executive order on police reform last week. Mr Trump’s order encouraged state and local officials to ban the use of law enforcement chokeholds “except if an officer’s life is at risk”.