Schumer Floor Remarks On The Need For Dramatic Improvement To The Republican Policing Bill And Decrying Republican Attempts To Push Through Radical Judges With Anti-Civil Rights Records

June 17, 2020

Washington, D.C.—Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) today spoke on the Senate floor regarding the need to dramatically improve the Senate Republicans’ policing reform legislative proposal and condemned Senate Republicans’ attempts to push through radical right-wing judges with anti-civil rights records amid historic protests. Below are Senator Schumer’s remarks, which can also be viewed here:

This morning is a tale of two chambers.

The House of Representatives is starting the consideration of the Justice in Policing Act, led by Senators Booker and Harris in the Senate and developed in conjunction with the Congressional Black Caucus and House Democrats. The bill represents comprehensive, strong, and enduring reform to police departments, the most forceful set of change in decades.

This morning in the Senate, Republicans have put forward a separate proposal, led by the Senator from South Carolina. We have only had the bill for a few hours and are reviewing it, but what’s clear is that the Senate Republican proposal on policing does not rise to the moment.

The Democratic bill has a ban on no-knock warrants in federal drug cases while the Republican bill only requires data on no-knock warrants.

The Democratic bill has a publicly available nationwide database on misconduct, so that abusive police officers who are fired can’t simply go to another department somewhere else in the country and get hired. The Republican bill would keep such information almost entirely shielded from public view.

The Democratic bill bans chokeholds and other tactics that have killed Black Americans. The Republican bill purports to ban chokeholds, but only those that restrict airflow and not bloodflow, and provides exceptions when “deadly force” is needed. Who determines when deadly force is needed? Usually the police themselves, and courts defer to their judgment.

The Republican bill is silent on racial profiling and the militarization of local police departments.

And perhaps the greatest flaw in the Republican proposal is that it is missing real, meaningful accountability for individual officers’ misconduct. There are no reforms to qualified immunity or pattern and practice investigations.

This is critically important. Without accountability measures, we’re merely exhorting police departments to do better, crossing our fingers, and hoping for the best. Real change comes with accountability. As drafted, the Republican bill doesn’t provide it.

So we have a tale of two chambers, a glaring contrast between a strong, comprehensive Democratic bill in the House, and a much narrower, and much less effective Republican bill in the Senate.

Now, I am glad that Leader McConnell listened to our demands to bring a police reform to the floor before July 4th. I've been asking him to do this for three weeks and he's finally acceded. I am glad that Republicans have finally joined the debate and put a proposal forward after much pressure from the public. But any final product must be strong, and must make real and lasting changes.

I would note that before we even get to a police reform proposal, the Republican leader wants to approve a circuit court judge next week, same week we're doing police reform—Cory Wilson—who has a record of hostility towards voting rights, a nominee who advocated baseless claims of voter fraud and called the concern over voter suppression and discrimination “poppycock.”

This is sort the two-faced approach that we're seeing. On the one hand, they're saying let's do something on police reform. On the other hand, they put judges who come in exactly the opposite place and take away voting rights and other things that affect African Americans, and particularly poor African Americans.

Now the Senate is a place where you can only succeed if you convince a substantial majority of the chamber that you have good legislation. We expect our Republican colleagues to work with us to make significant improvements to any legislation in order for it to pass. We take this very seriously. And as we continue to review the Republican legislation, I will be talking to my caucus about the best way to strengthen it. This bill will need dramatic improvement.

Let me be very clear: this is not about letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. This is about making the “ineffective” the enemy of the “effective.”

Let me repeat that: this is not about letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. This is about replacing what’s ineffective with what’s effective. And we must have effective change.

The question is whether the legislation will bring the change we so desperately need or fail to make those necessary changes; fail to stop more Black Americans from dying at the hands of police.

The question is: will it work?

And the Republican bill has a long way to go to meet this moment.

There’s been a lot of talk from the Republican leader about the real challenge of getting onto a bill. Frankly, the real challenge is whether Senate Republicans will be able to step up to the plate and rise to the moment and vote for a bill that actually solves the problem. We Democrats are going to try to get them there.

It’s important that we get this right. The vast majority of Americans from both political parties support far-reaching reforms. More than 75% want to allow victims of police misconduct to more easily sue police departments for damages. More than 80% want to ban chokeholds and racial profiling. More than 90% support independent investigations of police departments that show patterns of misconduct and more than 90% want a federal requirement that police wear body cameras.

There is no reason to scribble our changes in the margins, or nibble around the edges of this large and difficult and persistent problem. The moment calls for bold action, and the American people are behind it.

Now yesterday, we all got a good look at what window dressing looks like, and what we must all strive to avoid. The president celebrated an executive order that supposedly was about police reform, but in reality was a bunch of vague incentives to suggest that police departments change on their own.

The “ban on chokeholds” wasn’t a ban at all. Even the databases proposed by the executive order are voluntary, not mandatory.

Befitting the seriousness of this topic, the president spent the majority of his press conference demonizing peaceful protesters, airing unjustified grievances against past administrations, and suggesting that the same scientific expertise that led to the AIDS vaccine will lead to a COVID vaccine. Of course, there is no AIDS vaccine.

Now this was the president’s press conference on police reform. Unbelievable what he said at this serious moment.

We have to do a better job here in Congress. The president isn’t going to lead on these issues. He’s not going to engage with the legislation or propose effective reforms. He’s too busy threatening to sue news organizations over unflattering polls.

We in Congress have to take up the mantle and I’m glad that we’ll be turning to this subject next week. We must all set our sights on achieving real, strong, effective reforms to police departments in America.