Policing, guns, voting rights: Historic Democratic goals hit Senate skids

This political reality in the Senate is likely to spur negotiations with the GOP on concessions that would be difficult to take for many progressive Democrats, including longtime civil rights activists who have put significant energy into the House’s police law. As a result, pressure will increase on Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to destroy the filibuster once and for all.

“To get all other good bills passed, like the police reform, we have to – in my opinion – talk about the filibuster reform, ”said Senator Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), who described the previous GOP offer on this issue as“ unacceptable ”. ”

The Democrats’ police action in the House of Representatives was entirely party-political, but contains important provisions that both parties left behind after the race settlement last summer.

Schumer told reporters on Wednesday that it was a “very, very high priority” for Democrats to get the bill to the Senate.

“We will not be satisfied with a bill that does nothing and is symbolic,” he said. “We’re going to work very, very hard to get there. We will vote on it. ”

But whatever can happen to the Senate regarding policing is sure to look different from the House’s hard-won legislation. Senators from both parties said this week that they could try again to compromise on the most important and popular measures of the law, such as banning chokeholds or “no-knock” orders.

Senator Tim Scott (RS.C.), who led his chamber’s GOP police reform efforts during last Congress, predicted the House bill would go nowhere in the Senate, noting that “it is the same as it was before have passed “. However, Scott said he had only spoken in police talks with his Democratic counterpart, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, last weekend.

“It just depends on your definition of non-partisan,” Scott said when asked if a compromise was possible. “It depends on whether your bill includes demonizing police officers or not.”

After the House passed the bill, Booker said he was encouraged by talking to senators on both sides of the aisle and vowed to “advance Senate police reform.”

Resolving differences between the parties could prove particularly problematic when it comes to removing qualified immunity. This legal doctrine protects police officers from lawsuits and makes it difficult to hold them accountable when a crime is committed in the workplace.

Senate Republicans this week underlined the Democrats’ blockade of reform efforts last year by filibustering the GOP version of the law. Democrats counter that the previous proposal was inadequate.

And any compromise that is less than the law passed by Parliament would be a disappointment to the cadre of civil rights groups that have fought for years or even decades for many of the policy changes in the House Police Bill.

Democrats say they have seen unprecedented calls for police reform from their grassroots, perhaps more than any other single problem in recent years. Groups like the NAACP, the National Urban League, and the National Action Network are increasing their pressure on lawmakers, calling for the House-approved bill to be passed, and working with allies in Congress.

“We need to focus on the concerns of the people who live every day with the tragic contradictions of our criminal justice system. We need to keep an eye on the victims and their families, ”said Senator Raphael Warnock, who was elected Georgia’s first black Senator this year. “I think too often that in the legislative process the urgency and the human side of what is at stake are lost. And so I hope to reinforce that.”

Several leaders of prominent civil rights organizations said they had contacted members of the Black Caucus of Congress last week to reiterate their desire for this legislation to make it to Biden’s desk.

But they also admitted that achieving their goal will not be easy.

“We’re full speed ahead,” said Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League and former New Orleans mayor. Nonetheless, he added, “We will still have work to do” in the Senate.

Morial said he and other civil rights activists plan to speak to senators standing on the fence about house police legislation.

After the House passes a measure “that reflects what we are committed to,” said Derrick Johnson, president of the NAACP, “we will recalibrate and start over” by actively reaching out to the Senators.

Talks between the House and the Senate are already taking place behind the scenes. Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., A lead writer on the bill, spoke privately with Booker and Scott as they try to find a way forward this year. (Booker’s office has made no comment on this story.)

Rep. Jamaal Bowman (DN.Y.), a freshman who represents parts of the Bronx and Westchester Counties and made policing an important part of his campaign, said House Democrats need to keep pressuring their counterparts across the Capitol to to finally end the policy qualified immunity.

“We need to work behind the scenes with our Senate colleagues to help them understand how this is better for not just color communities and poor communities, but the country as well,” Bowman said. He stressed that there is more to be done: “This is the floor, not the ceiling.”

A non-partisan group that included Bass, Scott and Booker made strides towards a compromise over the past year, though things fell apart as the election drew near. Police reform advocates also lost hope last year when Republicans such as Sens. Mike Braun of Indiana and Rand Paul of Kentucky publicly expressed an interest in bringing cops to justice – and even advocating some changes to qualified immunity. However, it is unclear how much that dynamic has changed in a democratically controlled Washington.

One thing that has already shifted is the political spotlight on Schumer, who is eligible for re-election next year and has vowed that the Senate will not be a “legislative cemetery” under his leadership. He hears increasingly loud calls from House Democrats to cross the Senate’s 60-vote threshold – including from two of Pelosi’s top MPs.

Both House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and the majority whip, Jim Clyburn (DS.C.), this week called for changes to the filibuster of legislation, citing the fate of the House of Representatives’ Police Act and its comprehensive suffrage law – both issues that are disproportionately affecting black Americans.

The Senate’s tough chances of progressive legislation sparked an emotional reminder of Clyburn on Tuesday. He told reporters that he was arrested 60 years ago this week for sitting at an all-white lunch counter and vowed that “we will not give this up”.

“Nobody thought that day that one of those little 20-year-olds who were arrested that day would be standing here today,” said Clyburn shortly after ranting the Senate filibuster for blocking civil rights legislation in the past has been.

“We’re not just going to give in to these arcane methods of denying progress,” said Clyburn.

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