Schumer Floor Remarks On The Need For Serious Policing Reform And The Shortcomings Of the Republican Policing Bill

June 23, 2020

Washington, D.C.—Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) today spoke on the Senate floor, laying out the shortcomings of the Republican policing reform proposal and called for bipartisan talks on a real legislative solution. Below are Senator Schumer’s remarks, which can also be viewed here:

The past few months have been among the most wrenching and tumultuous in recent memory. The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic, have forced our country to reckon with not only the decades long failure to reform our police departments and prevent unwarranted brutality against Black Americans, but also the centuries long struggle against racial injustice.

Here in Congress, Democrats have sought to turn the anger and frustration and, yes, sometimes despair, in our country into real and meaningful action.

Democrats wish to seize the moment. Three weeks ago, Democrats announced a bill that would finally bring strong, comprehensive, and lasting change to police Departments across America: the Justice in Policing Act, led by Senators Booker and Harris. The House of Representatives will pass that bill this week.

But here in the Senate, we have a much different story. Senate Republicans responded to our comprehensive legislation by proposing a bill that is so much weaker on nearly every single count, and worse still, is completely silent on so many issues that scream out for action.

Should police officers be held to greater account if they violate Americans’ Constitutional rights? The Republican policing bill is silent.

Should police departments continue to have easy access to military-grade equipment? The Republican bill is silent.

Should police departments be forced to change their behavior when it comes to racial profiling? Should they develop better use of force standards? Should the Department of Justice be empowered to encourage and investigate police departments that have bad patterns and practices? Silent, silent, silent.

In place of real change and accountability for police officers and departments, the Republican bill proposes a slew of studies and commissions. We don’t need to study the problem of police misconduct and violence, we need to solve it.

No doubt, these issues are complex, multifaceted, and difficult. But the Republican legislation pretends as if the cancer of police brutality is, in reality, little more than a runny nose. The Republican legislation pretends as if the cancer of police brutality is little more than a runny nose.

The national conversation around policing reform, which has been ongoing for several years, was renewed by the terrible killing of George Floyd, his windpipe crushed by a police officer who kept his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck for nearly 9 minutes. The bill my Republican friends have drafted would not even completely ban the type of brutal tactics that led to George Floyd’s death.

The Republican bill does not even fully prevent the kind of tactics that sparked this whole debate in the first place.

Breonna Taylor, a first responder, was asleep in her bed in Louisville, Kentucky when she was killed by police executing a no-knock warrant.

The Republican bill does not ban no-knock warrants; it does not limit no-knock warrants, or require police departments to provide more information before obtaining them from a court. It calls for more data—more data—on the use of no-knock warrants.

After the tragic loss of Breonna Taylor, how could the Republican bill not even attempt to prevent the kind of events that led to her death?

Imagine if President Johnson, after the bus boycotts and the march in Selma and the righteous movement for civil rights in America, had proposed a bill that called for more data on the effectiveness of poll taxes and other voter intimidation techniques.

Imagine if President Johnson instead of the Voting Rights Act, proposed the Voting Rights Commission to study the issue a little bit more.

There is just no escaping the fact that Senate Republicans have drafted a policing bill that is deeply, fundamentally, and irrevocably flawed.

And Democrats are not the only ones who say so.

This morning's Washington Post, the Floyd family lawyer, Reverend Sharpton, the NAACP Legal Defense Fundall urged Senators to oppose the GOP reform bill. They called it a nonstarter—a nonstarter—and that is what we believe as well.

Last night, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund said that “it cannot support legislation that does not embody a strong accountability framework for police officers and other law enforcement officers who engage in misconduct.”

The lawyer for the families of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, one of the nation’s most renowned civil rights attorneys, wrote that the Republican legislation is “in direct contrast to the demands of the people” who have been protesting; and “the Black community is tired of the lip service, and shocked that the [Republican proposal] can be thought of as legislation.” That's the lawyer for the families of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd.

Let me repeat. The attorney representing the families who are seeking justice believes the Republican bill is completely inadequate, “lip service,” and can hardly be thought of as legislation.

How does Leader McConnell respond to that charge now does he respond when the families' lawyer says his bill is a nonstarter?

Civil rights groups—who have been the noble guardians of these issues for generations, who want nothing more than to see meaningful legislation—are urging the Senate to reject the Republican proposal. They see this bill for the futile, and maybe cynical, ploy that it is. Their opposition speaks louder than almost any other.

Who does America believe when it comes to dealing with these issues? Leader McConnell, who seems to be new to these issues, or the civil rights groups, who have been fighting for change for decades?

Who does America believe?

We Democrats are certain that the McConnell plan will not, and indeed cannot, result in any legislation passing.

It is clear that the Republican bill, as is, will not get sixty votes. There is overwhelming opposition to the bill in our caucus.

And because the bill needs such large-scale and fundamental change, there is no conceivable way that a series of amendments strong enough to cure the defects in the bill could garner sixty votes either. So no bill—no bill—will pass as a result of this ploy by Senator McConnell.

The Republican majority has given the Senate a bad bill and proposed no credible way to sufficiently improve it. Simply put: Leader McConnell has created a cul-de-sac from which no legislation can emerge.

Leader McConnell’s plan appears designed to get the “burden” of dealing with policing reform off of Republican shoulders by setting up a process which is guaranteed not to result in successful legislation.

Again, Leader McConnell is leading the Senate into a cul-de-sac, a process designed to fail.

But there’s a way out of this cul-de-sac. Yes, there is a way out. It’s the same process that has led to success in the Senate time and time again. It’s a simple word: bipartisanship.

This morning, Senators Booker, Harris, and I are sending a letter to Leader McConnell stressing the need for bipartisan talks to get to a constructive starting point on policing reform. If our two parties could get together to draft a bipartisan proposal—and even if we don’t agree on everything, we can agree to invoke a real amendment process—then we might produce a bill that has a real shot of passing.

If the Republican Leader would acknowledge the obvious need for these talks, there’s a real chance that we could produce legislation that has a shot of passing.

So we are pleading with Leader McConnell: instead of pressing forward with this partisan bill that’s designed to make sure no bill passes, Leader McConnell, pursue a path that’s designed to produce real, meaningful policing reform. In the Senate, where sixty votes are required to achieve almost anything, a bipartisan process is the only way to move forward.

My friends, this could be a moment for the Senate to rise to the occasion. There’s certainly something happening out there in America. Hundreds of thousands of protesters of every faith and color and age have taken to the streets to demand change.

If Americans out in the country can join together in a righteous chorus calling for change, we in the Senate can at least try to come together to deliver it. But it’s going to take more than the typical games here in the Senate that Leader McConnell seems to be playing. We are going to have to rise above the take-it-or-leave-it legislating that has trapped us in the status quo on so many issues.

We were able to negotiate a $3 trillion emergency aid package before bringing it to the floor of the Senate. We’ve done it on budgets and criminal justice reform, on the Great American Outdoors Act. A bipartisan group put together an immigration bill that passed the Senate with more than two-thirds in support on a very contentious issue because it was bipartisan. So even on thorny issues like policing reform, we can—we can, we must—work with each other, and we need to in order to achieve a bill that can actually pass the Senate.

So let me repeat my request to Leader McConnell: let us not retreat to partisan corners on such a vital issue, let us appeal to the higher instincts of this chamber and try to find a bill, together. 

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