Senate Democrats blocked a Republican police reform bill from advancing Wednesday as they call for bipartisan talks on a plan to overhaul law enforcement during a national outcry against brutality and racism.
The legislation, led by GOP Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, did not garner the 60 votes needed to move forward to debate. It failed in a 55-45 vote. As Democrats argued the measure did not go far enough to root out failings in policing, Republicans contended they should vote to move ahead with it so they could formally propose amendments.
"If you don't think we're right, make it better. Don't walk way," Scott, one of three Black senators, said before the vote. "Vote for the motion to proceed so that we have an opportunity to deal with this very real threat to the America that is civil, that is balanced."
The impasse Wednesday leaves Congress no closer to passing any police reform legislation during the biggest public push for change in decades. During weeks of protests after police killed George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, in Minneapolis last month, certain cities and states have taken initial steps to reform departments.
But the divided Congress — though limited in the change it can bring at the local level — has not yet passed a bill to respond to the crisis.
Speaking earlier Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said it is "not realistic" to try to fix the Republican bill's problems through amendments. He called for bipartisan talks to draft a police reform bill that would have to make its way through the Senate Judiciary Committee.
"After this bill goes down, there should be bipartisan discussions with the object of coming together around a constructive starting point for police reform. ... And I have no doubt that we could come up with a bill that's ready for the floor in a few weeks," the New York Democrat said.
The Democratic and Republican plans differ on several key fronts. The Democratic proposal would weaken "qualified immunity" protections for police and make it easier to prosecute officers who commit abuses. The GOP bill would not.
The Democratic legislation would ban the use of chokeholds and no-knock search warrants at the federal level and tie state and local funding to barring the practices. The GOP bill would make certain exceptions for a chokehold ban and instead require more data collection on the use of no-knock warrants.
While Democrats make the case that their bill takes more serious reform steps than the GOP proposal does, their plan falls short of calls from activists to slash police funding and redirect the money to social services. As Democrats pushed for bipartisan talks after the Senate vote, Sen. Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat and one of the three Black senators, acknowledged the pressure demonstrators have put on Congress.
"The final thing I just want to say is to the activists: Stay at it," Booker said. "Everything that we're doing right now has been given strength because of your demands for justice. And I hope that the pressure stays."