Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Senate Republicans Unveil Police Reform Bill


Today Republicans, led by South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, the only black Republican in the Senate, unveiled a police reform bill.


TIM SCOTT: We believe that the overwhelming number of officers in this nation are good people.

KELLY: President Trump supports this bill. Democrats, though, say it does not go far enough. They are going to require major changes to lend their support to the bill. NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis joins me now.

Hey, Sue.


KELLY: All right. Lay out the landscape for us. What exactly are Senate Republicans proposing?

DAVIS: So their bill would create new funding incentives for police departments to put in place things like chokehold bans and requiring the use of body cameras. Basically, if police departments did that, they would get more money from the federal government. And if they don't do those things, they would get less money. But the government wouldn't mandate either one of them.

It includes stricter reporting on the use of no-knock warrants - doesn't ban them - and creates new penalties for filing false police reports. It also creates a new database that would track the disciplinary records of police officers to make it harder to hire cops with bad records, and it would direct the DOJ, the Department of Justice, to provide more training for police on how to deescalate situations.

KELLY: Now, how big are the differences between that bill and what Democrats in the House are putting forward in their bill?

DAVIS: There are a lot of similarities, and Republicans certainly included some things in their bill to try and bring along Democratic support. There are things like making lynching a federal crime for the first time. It includes the creation of a new commission to study the conditions that impact young black men and boys in this country, also in the Democrats' bill.

But a lot of the Senate bill is a weaker version of what Democrats are trying to do. For example, the Democrats' bill explicitly bans chokeholds and no-knock warrants. It also addresses this issue of qualified immunity, and the Democrats' bill would make it easier to sue police officers if constitutional or civil rights are violated. Tim Scott told reporters today that that's a nonstarter for him.


SCOTT: When the Democrats start talking about qualified immunity and the ability to aggressively pursue the officers at a higher threshold, that is hard. That's a poison pill, from my perspective. Is there a conversation that could be had around something different? Perhaps. I haven't heard it yet.

DAVIS: This qualified immunity divide is going to be one of these major sticking points to getting a deal, but I want to note that not all Republicans are ruling it out. Senator Mike Braun of Indiana said today he's working on a proposal on qualified immunity that he hopes to unveil next week.

KELLY: Speaking of next week, let's talk timing. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he will move to bring this bill up for a vote next week. That sounds like Democrats in the Senate are going to have some decisions to make. Do they get on board? Do they try to negotiate? What's their plan?

DAVIS: Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer spoke about the bill on the floor today. He said it doesn't, quote, "rise to the moment," but he didn't close the door to negotiations. So we'll see how that'll play out in the course of the next week. And the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, panned the Senate bill. She said Democrats want bigger reforms. Democrats are looking for something that will more fundamentally transform policing in this country. Democrats are going to pass their bill in the House next week as well.

The two parties, I think it's important to understand, are really at odds at what the problem is they're trying to solve here. Democrats have been pretty unambiguous about systemic racism in policing, and Republicans largely reject that characterization. Scott was asked today if he believes systemic racism was the problem, and this is what he said.


SCOTT: I don't know how to tell people that the nation is not racist. I'll try again. We're not a racist country. We deal with racism because there's racism in the country.

DAVIS: This is just one of these sort of foundational ideological differences in this debate that is giving some reason to be skeptical that they're going to reach a deal here.

KELLY: Politically, with so many voices in the country calling for change, calling for reform, is there a risk if Congress fails to act right now?

DAVIS: There could be, but I think that's why there's a lot of bipartisanship and some goodwill to try to get something done. But it's really hard to separate this from the election year, right? I mean, there is clear urgency at the White House and among Republicans to respond to this public outcry, especially when there's a lot of distrust of the president among people of color when it comes to matters of racial injustice. But I talked to a lot of Democrats today who say, you know, they might just want to wait to see what happens in November, especially when they have the chances of winning the White House and the Senate.

KELLY: Thank you, Sue.

DAVIS: You're welcome.

KELLY: NPR's Susan Davis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.