Consider this the semi-official Republican response to Nancy Pelosi’s demagoguery over police reform earlier in the week. Well, let’s call it the second semi-official response to Pelosi, after Tim Scott’s barely veiled reference to racism as the reason Senate Democrats refuse to negotiate on his police-reform bill. Scott gave Democrats some slight cover by saying that the issue was “stereotyping Republicans,” but Mitch McConnell dispensed with that fig leaf earlier today.
“I cannot see why the Democratic Leader talks right past Senator Scott as if he were not leading this discussion,” McConnell declared, leaving little doubt about his intent to accuse Chuck Schumer of being a racist:
Now, as an aside — I could not help but notice that in the Democratic Leader’s lengthy remarks yesterday morning, he did not once address or acknowledge the junior Senator for South Carolina as the author of the JUSTICE Act.
Not one time did the Democratic Leader address Senator Tim Scott as the author of the legislation he was trashing. I cannot see why the Democratic Leader talks right past Senator Scott as if he were not leading this discussion, as if he were barely here. All I can say is that it was jarring to witness, especially in a national moment like this.
Senator Scott led the working group. He wrote the bill. He has been studying, and working on, and living these issues since long before the Democratic Leader came rushing to the microphones on this subject a few weeks ago.
I can certainly take all the angry comments my colleague from New York wants to throw my way. I don’t mind. But if he’d like to learn something about the substance of this issue, he might want to stop acting like Senator Scott hardly exists and learn from the expert who wrote the bill.
McConnell also blasted Pelosi:
The American people know they don’t need history lessons from common criminals who are dragging George Washington through the dirt. They know prayer is no less ‘essential’ than protest. And they know that a politician who compares a policy disagreement to a brutal murder has just permanently forfeited the moral high ground to the grown-ups who want solutions.
Don’t expect Pelosi to acknowledge forfeiting anything, let alone the pull she has in shaping bills to her satisfaction in the House. This is, however, a pretty effective brushback pitch, especially since it’s obvious what’s going on with Democrats’ interactions with an ascendant Tim Scott. Guy Benson calls it sauce for the gander:
This is as close as you may get to seeing Mitch McConnell give his race-baiting colleagues a taste of their own rhetorical medicine. …
They could have opened the debate, offered amendments (perhaps like this one, co-sponsored by a liberal Democrat) to improve the bill as they saw fit, then determined whether the final product was worthy of a vote. They chose to do none of this, shutting down a process they’ve been loudly demanding, with Schumer apparently walking away from his previous July 4th deadline as if it never existed. Speaking of Schumer, McConnell went out of his way to draw attention to the minority leader’s rhetoric blasting the JUSTICE Act, which effectively erased Scott’s leading role in crafting it.
I’ll leave you with this: In his fired-up remarks yesterday, Scott lamented that media bias would likely shield Democrats from the consequences of their cynical, shameless political gamesmanship on an issue they profess to care about very deeply. “Unfortunately, without the kind of objectivity in the media that’s necessary to share the message of what’s actually happening, no one will ever know” what Senate Democrats are doing, he warned.
Speaking of which …
Wait did none of the national network news programs address the police reform debate? I don't think I saw it on Nightly, definitely not on ABC, and I am not sure CBS. But we covered the protests…not the reform efforts on the Hill?
— Kellie Meyer (@KellieMeyerNews) June 24, 2020
.@ABCWorldNews, @CBSEveningNews, and @NBCNightlyNews ignored how Senate Dems shot down @SenatorTimScott’s #JUSTICEAct https://t.co/LvV6T5KHiR
— Nicholas Fondacaro (@NickFondacaro) June 25, 2020
The problem with all of the political potshots both sides are taking and giving over police-reform bills is that their proposals aren’t actually all that different from each other. Their bills also aren’t very good, Radley Balko writes, and he’s not wrong about that — but perhaps off as to why:
The Republican bill places no restrictions on the dangerous practice of no-knock raids. Instead, it asks that states collect data. The Democratic bill bars the use of no-knock warrants for federal drug investigations and cuts funding for any state or local jurisdiction that doesn’t do the same. But the Democrats’ bill requires only that police officers execute drug warrants “only after providing notice of his or her authority and purpose.” This “knock and announce” requirement is all but meaningless if you know that police officers frequently do so either simultaneous with or just seconds before entering. (The cops who killed Taylor, for example, claimed they did knock and announce.) A truly meaningful reform would go further and bar any forced entry into a private residence unless the police have reason to suspect someone inside presents an imminent threat to others, such as an active shooter, a kidnapping or a robbery in progress.
Neither bill satisfactorily provides for changing the current reality that bad cops are rarely held accountable. Derek Chauvin, the officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck, had 17 misconduct complaints in 18 years. He received only two letters of reprimand. The New York Times reported that since 2012, the Minneapolis Police Department received over 2,600 civilian complaints of police misconduct. Just 12 were upheld. This is consistent with other surveys of police departments across the country. …
A truly visionary bill would look at ways we could shrink the footprint of policing. Violence intervention groups such as Cure Violence have a proven track record in bringing down homicide rates in the communities where they work. Congress should fund them. Using federal highway spending as leverage, lawmakers could commission a study looking at ways to minimize police-motorist interaction by, say, relying less on traffic laws and more on engineering and highway design. This could mitigate problems such as racial profiling, pretextual stops, racial disparities in roadside searches, altercations that stem from traffic stops — all major sources of tension between police and marginalized communities.
Read all of Balko’s essay, which lays out some steps that do fall under federal purview. The problem with the debate over police reform is that most of the actions necessary for real reform have to take place at the local and state levels that have actual operational jurisdiction over police and sheriff departments. The most on-point issue was Minneapolis PD’s failure to deal with Chauvin properly, but that has nothing to do with qualified immunity or any federal statute or policy. Chauvin stuck around because the police union contract makes it difficult to get rid of bad officers before they do something heinous — and those contracts get negotiated with local officials. Local officials who get elected mainly on the backing of public-employee unions for the last few decades, by the way, which stresses that real reform has to take place locally.
Can Congress facilitate changes? Yes, but mainly indirectly, unless we want to contemplate a massive reform that makes police departments answerable to Washington DC rather than the communities they serve. That would be a terrible idea with extremely bad outcomes, especially in communities that already don’t feel a close connection to the people who enforce the law within their neighborhoods.
There is a built-in futility to both Republican and Democratic bills — and one senses that the food fight is mainly a way to distract from it. In the meantime, though … pass the popcorn, I guess.