Schumer Floor Remarks In Opposition To Senate GOP’s Irrevocably Flawed Policing Bill; Schumer Demands Bipartisan Talks To Produce Meaningful Policing Reform Legislation

June 24, 2020

Washington, D.C.—Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) today spoke on the Senate floor in opposition to the Senate Republican’s irrevocably flawed policing bill. Senator Schumer also demanded bipartisan talks to produce meaningful policing reform legislation that meets the moment. Below are Senator Schumer’s remarks, which can also be viewed here:

The names of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery continue to ring in the nation’s ears, a searing reminder of the desperate need to reform policing and truly address racial injustice in America. Their memory is a national call to action.

Democrats answered that call by proposing a broad, strong, comprehensive policing reform bill that would bring deep and lasting change to police departments across America. House Democrats will pass that bill—the Justice in Policing Act—as early as tomorrow.

However, here in the Senate, the Republican majority proposed the legislative equivalent of a fig leaf; something that provides a little cover but no real change. And in less than an hour, Leader McConnell will ask the Senate to proceed to this so-called policing reform bill.

We’ve all gone over the bill’s deficiencies, over and over again. There are no good answers. Some on the other side have said the bills are similar. They are like night and day.

In response to the brutal killing of George Floyd, his windpipe crushed by a police officer, my Republican friends drafted a bill that does not even fully ban the type of brutal tactics that led to his death.

In response to the death of Breonna Taylor, killed by police executing a no-knock warrant, my Republican friends have drafted a bill that does not even ban that type of tactics.

What weak tea.

For Leader McConnell to come on the floor with this bill and say he is solving the problem—no one believes that, except maybe a few ideologues who really don't want to solve the problem to begin with.

The bill doesn’t ban chokeholds. It doesn’t ban no-knock warrants. It does nothing to stop racial profiling, the militarization of the police, or reform “use of force” standards and qualified immunity. All the things that need to be done, almost none of which are in this bill.

The last piece is particularly surprising. So much of the anger in the country right now is directed at the lack of accountability for police officers who violate Americans’ rights. As far as I can tell, the Republican bill does not even attempt one significant reform, not one, to bring more accountability to police officers who are guilty of misconduct.

If you present a bill, as Republicans have here in the Senate, that does nothing on accountability and say they are solving or dealing with the problem in even close to an adequate way, they are sadly mistaken. No one, no one, believes that.

Now, I could spent more time describing what the Republican bill doesn’t do than what it does do. The harsh fact of the matter is, the bill is so deeply, fundamentally, and irrevocably flawed, that it cannot serve as a useful starting point for real reform.

But don't ask me. Don't ask the Democrats here. Ask the leading civil rights organizations who have declared their strong opposition not only to this bill but have urged us not to move forward because they know this bill is a sham, a cul-de-sac, which will lead to no reform whatsoever. 

That’s why a chorus of civil rights leaders and organizations have declared their strong opposition to the Republican policing bill.

Yesterday, more than 138 civil rights groups sent an open letter to Senators demanding that we vote ‘no’ on moving to proceed today.

I have the letter here. I ask unanimous consent that the full letter be printed in the record.

I want to ask the American people, I want to ask Republican Senators, who is a better guardian of the civil rights of African Americans when it comes to police reform. The NAACP or Leader McConnell?

If this bill were such a good path to reform, why wouldn't civil rights organizations, from one end of America to another, say go forward, maybe we'll get something done?

Because they know the bill is a ruse and nothing will get done and that's why it's designed, that's the way it’s designed.

Who do you believe when it comes to civil rights and police accountability? Leader McConnell or the lawyer for the families of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor?

Who do you believe, the lawyer of the Floyd and Taylor families or Leader McConnell, who we have never heard speak on this issue on the floor until the last few weeks?

These groups have been speaking about it for decades. The idea that this bill is a step forward, when it will lead to nowhere.

Leader McConnell keeps saying you can cut the bill off when you don't get your 60 votes. What kind of solution is that? When it's a junky bill, when it's a bill that doesn't go far enough at all, why don't we put a good bill on the floor that can pass?

Let me read what the Leadership Conference on Human and Civil Rights said. They have had a hand in drafting every meaningful piece of civil rights legislation passed in Congress in the last few years. This bill, the JUSTICE bill, the Republican bill, “is an inadequate response to the decades of pain, hardship, and devastation that Black people have and continue to endure as a result of systematic racism and lax policies that fail to hold police accountable for misconduct. This bill, the Civil Rights Conference continues, falls woefully short of the comprehensive reform needed to address the current policing policies, the current policing crisis, and achieve meaningful reform.”

Listen to this sentence from 138 civil rights organizations about this bill that Leader McConnell has put on the floor, “It is deeply problematic to meet this moment with a menial incremental approach that offers more funding to police and few policies to effectively address the constant loss of Black lives at the hands of the police.”

Leader McConnell, here's what the civil rights organizations say about your bill. They rip off any cloaking about what this bill really does and what it is.

I want to read it again, specifically to our Republican leader who thinks this is a good bill and a great attempt to go forward. “It is deeply problematic to meet this moment with a menial incremental approach that offers more funding to police and few policies to effectively address the constant loss of Black lives at the hands of police.”

Who do you believe, America? The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights or Leader McConnell?

Who do you believe, America? NAACP or the Republican caucus?

Who do you believe, America? The lawyer for the Taylor and Floyd families or President Trump who has these members quaking in their boots if they do something that he doesn't like?

That's one of the other reasons we're in such a pickle here. They are so afraid of President Trump, who's willing to say overtly racist statements, like “Kung flu” several times yesterday, that they can't even bring themselves to bring a bill on the floor that has a modicum of respect from the civil rights community. When you call it menial, you are not respecting a bill.

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund—founded by the great Justice Thurgood Marshall, here’s what it said. They have been fighting for these things for 80 years—not 8 days: “It cannot support legislation that does not embody a strong accountability framework for police officers and law enforcement who engage in misconduct.”

Here’s what Benjamin Crump, the lawyer said, the Republican legislation is “in direct contrast to the demands of the people” who have been protesting; “the Black community is tired of the lip service, and shocked that the [Republican proposal] can [even] be thought of as legislation.”

The lawyer for the Taylor and Floyd families. Leader McConnell has invoked their names. That's the right thing to do. But then deviates totally from what their lawyer says needs to be done to deal with these kinds of deaths. Again, Benjamin Crump, lawyer for Floyd and Taylor families: “the Black community is tired of the lip service and shock that the Republican proposal can even be thought of as legislation.”

So don't get on your sanctimonious horse, Leader McConnell. You have none of the civil rights community behind you.

The most pre-eminent civil rights groups in our nation’s history are speaking. The lawyer representing the families of the Americans who have lost their loved ones at the hands of those sworn to protect and serve is speaking. They have one simple, urgent goal, and it has nothing to do with politics.

Leader McConnell accuses what we're doing as being filled with politics. Does Leader McConnell accuse all 138 civil rights organizations of wanting to do this for politics? No, no, no. I think the shoe is on the other foot. I think the politics here is that Leader McConnell wants to show he's doing something and get nothing done.

He may be afraid of President Trump. He may be afraid of some police organizations. I don't know what it is.

Here's what they say in their letter: “We, therefore, urge you, the Senators, to oppose the JUSTICE Act and vote no on the motion to proceed.”

I dare the leader to come out here and say they're playing politics. Come right out and say it because it's false. And we, the Democrats, are aligned with what they believe.

Now, this morning, we heard the predictable histrionics from the Republican leader. The accusations of mindless obstruction and outrageous hypocrisy!

Leader McConnell should spare us all the lectures about how laws get made. He knows how. It’s through bipartisanship.

The leader talks about bipartisanship and introduces a totally partisan bill and introduces a process where Democrats have had no input. That's partisanship.

Want to be bipartisan, Leader McConnell? Sit down, assemble a group. some from your side—maybe Senator Scott, who's greatly respected—some from our side—maybe Senators Booker and Harris, who are greatly respected—a few others, and let them sit down and come up with a proposal. It doesn't have to be behind closed doors.

And the leader is worried about closed doors? There's something called the Judiciary Committee. It doesn't meet in secret.

Why wasn't this bill referred there, where there would be at least something of a bipartisan process? Who is he kidding? Who is he kidding?

You don't want closed doors, Leader McConnell? Send it to the Judiciary Committee. Something as important as this should have gone through that to begin with.

And let me repeat, Republicans came here, dropped the bill on the floor and said, take it or leave it.

Even if we were to get on the bill, there is no conceivable way to rectify all of its many problems. It's not realistic we can fix this bill, even with a series of amendments, because they will require 60 votes and we won't get 60 on any of them because if they believed in these ideas—as Senator Harris said—they would have put them in the bill to begin with. They didn't.

The Republican majority has given the Senate a bad bill and no credible way to sufficiently improve it. Senator McConnell—cleverly, maybe cynically—designed a legislative cul-de-sac from which no bill—no bill at all—could emerge.

And whether the bill lacks sixty votes now, or sixty votes in a few days, we know the Republican Leader will accuse Democrats of filibustering and claim that we’re the opponents of progress, as he did this morning.

Please.

Does anyone truly believe that Democrats are the obstacle to reforming our police departments? Does anyone believe that? We announced a much better, much bolder, much more effective bill three weeks ago and, unlike the Republican legislation, the Justice in Policing Act will actually pass one chamber of Congress. And when it passes the House, the nation is going to say to Leader McConnell, get something moving in the senate. And Leader McConnell knows and everyone in this body knows, you have to do that in a bipartisan way. That's how the Senate has always worked and still does.

Senate Republicans and their president — who proclaims that we should “cherish” the memory of confederate traitors who fought to preserve slavery, who gleefully call the coronavirus the “Kung Flu” with hardly a word of criticism from his party — expect you believe that Republicans are the true champions of racial justice and police reform. That’s what Senate Republicans want America to believe. America ain't buying it.

The same Republican majority that has demonstrated a complete lack of urgency to address the public health and economic crises that are devastating Black America.

The same Republican majority that has refused time and time again to call out President Trump’s bigotry and intolerance.

The same Republican majority that has run a conveyor belt of anti-civil rights, vote suppressing judicial nominees, including one today—today!—the very same day we vote on policing reform. They want you to believe that all of a sudden they want to get something done? As they say in Brooklyn, forget about it.

So when you hear President Trump and Senator McConnell trying to cast blame for lack of progress on police reform, I have three words for you: consider the source. Look at their history. Look at what they've done. Look at just said, Leader McConnell proudly brags he's putting someone on the Fifth Circuit who has opposed voting rights for his whole career. That’s who wants to move things forward? I doubt it.

Here’s the truth: Senator McConnell has been around a long time and he knows how to produce a workable outcome in the Senate if he really wants to.

We have done it before on criminal justice reform and annual budgets, the national defense bill and the lands package we passed. Even on difficult immigration issues, the Senate can function if the leadership allows it to. In 2013, a bipartisan group of Senators produced compromise immigration reform legislation that garnered more than two-thirds support in this chamber—on immigration no less. So what do these bills that pass have in common? Bipartisanship. Sponsorship and support. What does this bill have? Only partisan support. Not a single Democrat supports this bill. Their bill.

While I certainly feel obligated to point out the contradictions and hypocrisy in the Republican Leader's statements and history, I am not dismayed by the likely failure of the Republican bill today. All is not lost. There is a better path and one we should take once this bill fails to go forward.

After this bill goes down, there should be bipartisan discussions with the object of coming together around a constructive starting point for police reform. Leader McConnell can pick a few of his members as negotiators, I could designate a few members from our caucus, and they can sit down, talk to one another, and find a bill that we’re all ready to start debating. We could send that bill to the committee. Open process. It would be refined. This is an important issue. That, Leader McConnell, is what legislating – successful legislating – would look like.

And I have no doubt that we could come up with a bill that’s ready for the floor in a few weeks.

We know how to do this. But in the rush to get this issue off of their backs, to check some political box and move on, my Republican colleagues have forgotten or are simply ignoring everything they know about how the Senate works.

My hope, my prayer, is that after this bill fails today, after Leader McConnell’s path reaches its pre-ordained dead-end, one he intended to happen, we can start down the path of bipartisanship. Not a bill designed, put on the floor by one party.

If Americans of all ages and colors and faiths can join together in a righteous chorus calling for change, as they have in big cities and small towns across American, then we in the Senate can at least try to come together to deliver it.

Democrats and Republicans, working together to solve an age-old problem. The past few weeks have magnified a very old wound in our country. The binding up of that wound is a project that demands more from all of us: Black Americans and white Americans, police departments and the protesters in the streets, Democrats and Republicans.

So let us not—please, let us not—retreat once again to our partisan corners after the vote today. Let us instead, appeal instead to the better angels of our nature, reach out one another, Democrats and Republicans together, and try to forge a path forward, together. 

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