WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats in the House are set to vote Thursday on a far-reaching policing overhaul, a moment heavy with emotion and symbolism after the collapse of a Senate GOP effort to address the global outcry over the deaths of George Floyd and other Black Americans.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi gathered with members of the Congressional Black Caucus on the Capitol steps, challenging Congress not to allow the deaths to have been in vain or the outpouring of public support for law enforcement changes to go unmatched. Yet even with passage, the prospects for changes are dim, for now.
“Exactly one month ago, George Floyd spoke his final words — ‘I can't breathe’ — and changed the course of history,” Pelosi said.
She said the Senate faces a choice "to honor George Floyd's life or to do nothing."
The Thursday evening vote sends a signal with the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, perhaps the most ambitious proposed changes to police procedures and accountability in decades. Backed by the nation's leading civil rights groups, it seeks to match the moment of street-filled demonstrations. It has almost zero chance of becoming law.
On the eve of the vote, President Donald Trump's administration signaled he would veto the bill. And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has also said it would not pass the Republican-held chamber.
After the GOP policing bill stalled Wednesday, blocked by Democrats, Trump shrugged.
“If nothing happens with it, it’s one of those things," Trump said. "We have different philosophies.”
Congress is now at a familiar impasse despite protests outside their door and polling that shows Americans overwhelmingly want changes after the deaths of Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others in interactions with law enforcement. The two parties are instead appealing to voters ahead of the fall election, which will determine control of the House, Senate and White House.
“We hear you. We see you. We are you,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., during the afternoon debate.
It has been a month since Floyd’s death sparked a global reckoning over police tactics and racial injustice. Since then, funeral services were held for Rayshard Brooks, a Black man shot and killed by police in Atlanta. Thursday is also what would have been the 18th birthday of Tamir Rice, a Black boy killed in Ohio in 2014.
Lawmakers who have been working from home during the COVID-19 crisis were summoned to the Capitol for an emotional daylong debate. Dozens will vote by proxy under new pandemic rules.
During the day, several Democratic lawmakers read the names of those killed at the hands of police, shared experiences of racial bias and echoed support of Black Lives Matter activists.
Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., the chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said hundreds of thousands of people “in every state in the union” are marching in the streets to make sure Floyd “will not be just another Black man dead at the hands of the police.”
Republican lawmakers countered the bill goes too far and failed to include GOP input. “All lives matter,” said Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz. New York Rep. Pete King said it’s time to stand with law enforcement, the “men and women in blue.” Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, decried the protesters as a “Marxist crime wave.”
In the stalemate over the policing overhaul, the parties are settled into their political zones, almost ensuring no legislation will become law. The House vote Thursday is expected to be on party lines.
Both bills share common elements that could be grounds for a compromise. Central to both would be the creation of a national database of use-of-force incidents, which is viewed as a way to provide transparency on officers' records if they transfer from one agency to another. The bills would restrict police chokeholds and set up new training procedures, including beefing up the use of body cameras.
The Democratic bill goes much further, mandating many of those changes, while also revising federal statute for police misconduct and holding officers personally liable for damages in lawsuits. It also would halt the practice of sending military equipment to local law enforcement agencies.
Neither bill goes as far as some activists want with calls to defund the police and shift resources to other community services.
Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, the only Black Republican senator, who drafted the GOP package, said the bill is now “closer to the trash can than it’s ever been.”
“I’m frustrated,” he said on Fox News Channel.
Republicans and Democrats brought their bills forward as a starting point in the broader debate over how best to change policing practices, and as a legislative effort beyond Trump's executive orders. Scott insisted he was open to many of the broader changes proposed by Democrats. But Democrats doubted Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would allow a thorough debate, and instead halted a floor debate.
House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy scolded Democrats as “playing politics.”
Senate Democrats withheld their votes as leverage, believing Senate Republicans will face mounting public pressure to open negotiations and act.
With just a few months before the November election, that seems increasingly unlikely.
Associated Press writers Laurie Kellman, Andrew Taylor, Darlene Superville and Jill Colvin contributed to this report.