Racial Injustice Tim Scott

AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File

In this June 17, file photo, Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., accompanied by Republican senators speaks at a news conference to announce a Republican police reform bill on Capitol Hill in Washington. Initially reluctant to speak on race, Scott is now among the Republican Party’s most prominent voices teaching his colleagues what it’s like to be a Black man in America.

A Republican-backed police reform bill hit a snag Wednesday as Senate Democrats voted against it, leaving the parties to decide whether to negotiate a compromise or walk away despite public outcry over the killings of Black Americans by law enforcement officers.

John Cornyn, the senior senator from Texas said he was filled with “disappointment and frustration” over Democrats blocking the Justice Act. Cornyn authored several parts of the bill including a portion that called for the creation of a National Criminal Justice Committee, which had previously gained bipartisan support in the Senate.

“There was also a provision in there that Sen. (Cory) Booker and Sen. (Kamala) Harris were championing to make lynching a federal hate crime. To my great surprise they voted to block consideration of a bill that continues both of those bipartisan proposals,” Cornyn said.

The impasse threatens to turn the nationwide protests over the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others into another moment that galvanizes the nation but leaves lawmakers unable to act. Common ground is not out of reach.

But the legislation is stalled, for now, with Democrats refusing to agree to open debate as they push for greater changes in police tactics and accountability.

“If you don’t think we’re right, make it better, don’t walk away,” implored Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, the only Black Republican senator, and the author of the GOP bill.

Yet the outlook is deeply uncertain with Congress unable to swiftly respond even as the public demands policing changes. Much as lawmakers have failed to act during times of crisis on gun control or immigration changes there’s a familiar standoff despite broad support. An Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll shows almost all Americans support some degree of criminal justice changes.

“That’s what the police act was designed to start us off doing,” Cornyn said.

Ahead of the vote, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said, “My hope, my prayer, is that after this bill fails today... we can start on the path of bipartisanship.”

The GOP’s Justice Act is seen by Republicans and Democrats as a starting point in the broader debate over how best to change policing practices as demonstrations in cities large and small focus on law enforcement and racial injustice. It would create a national database of police use-of-force incidents, restrict police chokeholds and set up new training procedures and commissions to study race and law enforcement.

The package from Republicans is not as sweeping as a Democratic proposal, which mandates many of the changes and would hold police liable to damages in lawsuits. There are similarities on some issues, lawmakers say, but also vast differences.

Civil rights leaders and the Congressional Black Caucus urged a no vote on the GOP bill. Law enforcement and business groups including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have urged both parties to find common ground.

Ahead of Wednesday’s vote, Trump tweeted his support for the GOP bill. He said it would be “great for both people of color and police.” Trump tweeted, “Hope to sign it into law ASAP!”

Vice President Mike Pence was set to huddle Wednesday with GOP senators at lunch.

The vote was 55-45, failing to reach the 60-vote threshold needed to advance. Two Democrats, Alabama Sen. Doug Jones and West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, along with Sen. Angus King of Maine, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, voted with Republicans to open the debate.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell criticized Democrats as engaging in “political nonsense.” Still, he vowed to try again, hoping to pass legislation before a July 4 holiday recess. McConnell switched his vote to no, a procedural move so he could swiftly bring it back for reconsideration.

During a GOP lunch Tuesday, Scott played for colleagues the racist voice mail messages he has recently received, according to a Republican granted anonymity to discuss the private meeting. Senators were shocked, and some suggested Scott needs security protection because some of the calls were threatening, said a Scott aide. The senator is considering options, his aide said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has indicated she is eager to enter talks with the Senate, a signal the door is not closed to compromise.

But in a CBS News Radio interview Tuesday, Pelosi said Republicans need to step up with a better bill. “They were trying to get away with murder, actually — the murder of George Floyd.”

The comment drew sharp rebuke and calls from Republicans for her to apologize.

“We’re ready to make a law, not just make a point,” McConnell said as he opened the Senate on Tuesday. He said Americans “deserve better than a partisan stalemate.”

Political risks of inaction are high, as the public wants to see policing changes after nearly a month of constant demonstrations nationwide, in cities large and small, forcing a worldwide reckoning over law enforcement and racial injustice.

Staff writer Josh Edwards and Associated Press writers Lisa Masscaro, Lauire Kellman and Andrew Taylor contributed to this report.

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