GOP Senators Set Deadline for Policing Legislation: Done by Early Summer or Move On

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 25: Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) speaks to reporters as he leaves the weekly Republican policy luncheons on Capitol Hill on May 25, 2021 in Washington, DC. The Republicans spoke on their own infrastructure plan and are expected to introduce their counteroffer to President Biden's plan later …
Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Republicans in the Senate are now saying that legislation focused on policing should be addressed before the summer break or dropped.

“I think it’s June or bust,” Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) told reporters Wednesday. Scott has taken the lead in advancing the GOP vision of so-called police reform. 

“I think if it’s going to happen, it’ll happen before the July break,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who is also involved in negotiating with Democrats.

The call for policing legislation is part of a broader response to the death of George Floyd while in the custody of Minneapolis police.

The Associated Press (AP) reported on the deadline:

Neither senator explained why they’d targeted the next few weeks as pivotal in talks that became serious in April but have produced no tangible product. But historically, it gets harder for Congress to resolve controversial issues as an election year approaches and each party seeks issues to use in upcoming campaigns. Republicans hope to win House and perhaps Senate control in the 2022 elections.

Both sides’ bargainers have consistently expressed optimism about reaching a deal, with Scott saying Wednesday, “We’re doing our best. We’re making progress.”

Yet the talks have been a slog with the key dispute over qualified immunity, a legal doctrine that usually protects individual officers from lawsuits. Democrats have wanted to eliminate that shield, while Republicans want to retain immunity for officers but allow police agencies to be liable. The standoff showcases the problem of finding middle ground on an issue on which the two parties’ core voters — Democrats’ voters of color and progressives, and Republicans’ conservatives — have diametrically opposed views.

“I hope it’s not being considered an ultimatum,” Hilary O. Shelton, a senior vice president of the NAACP and director of the organization’s D.C. office. “I hope it’s to push their fellow Republicans and say, ‘Let’s take care of this.’”

The AP story further detailed the divide between conservatives and the left.

“We want qualified immunity to stand,” James Pasco, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police, said Wednesday.

“We want to see an end to qualified immunity,” and the bill “won’t be meaningful police reform without that,” Aamra Ahmad, senior policy counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union, said.

The Senate recesses at the end of this week and won’t return until June 7. The House is already in races and returns on June 14.

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