WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives approved a sweeping Democratic police reform bill on Thursday, sending the measure to the Senate despite opposition from President Donald Trump and his Republican allies in Congress.
The Democratic-controlled House voted 236-181 roughly along party lines to adopt the legislation, one month to the day after George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis police custody sparked weeks of worldwide protests over police brutality, especially against African-Americans.
An initial tally showed three Republicans breaking ranks to join Democrats in voting for the bill.
But the bill, which mandates changes in law and policy to rein in police misconduct, is unlikely to be taken up in the Republican-led Senate, where Democrats blocked a Republican reform bill on Wednesday. It also faces a formal White House veto threat.
Democrats and Republicans are deadlocked over how to address racial inequities in policing, despite strong public sentiment for effective reform after Floyd died in Minneapolis as a white policeman knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
“People say, ‘Well, why can’t you compromise with the other side?’ Well, they don’t ban chokeholds. We ban chokeholds. So are we supposed to come up with a number of chokeholds we are going to agree with? No,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said ahead of the vote.
Aiming to seize the mantle of public opinion surrounding Floyd, Democrats named their legislation “The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act” and predict that public pressure will erode Republican resistance.
“I don’t think the street will accept no action,” Pelosi told the Washington Post.
Republicans and Democrats are also at odds over a Democratic provision to allow victims of misconduct to sue for damages in civil court.
There was a ray of bipartisanship in the Senate, when the chamber unexpectedly passed a measure to establish a commission to study the status of Black men and boys in America, a provision of the Republican bill by Senator Tim Scott.
Floyd was among a growing number of unarmed African-Americans to die in police custody.
Seven unarmed Black people have been shot and killed by police so far in 2020, compared with 14 in 2019, according to a database maintained by the Post. Those killings do not include people who died by other means, as Floyd did. And experts say there is a pervasive lack of data.
Representative Karen Bass, chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, which represents over 50 Black lawmakers, said the Democrats’ bill would help prevent killings by ushering in bold, transformative changes nearly half a century after Black legislators began pushing for police reforms in the early 1970s.
But Scott, the Senate’s only Black Republican and author of the chamber’s failed police reform bill, accused Democrats of rejecting Republican input on the House bill to deny Trump and his Republican allies a victory on an issue vital to Black America ahead of the November election.
“This is pure race politics at its worst,” Scott said on Fox News, warning that congressional inaction will leave Black Americans vulnerable to further police violence. “There will be blood on the Democrats’ hands,” he said.
Scott later told reporters that momentum toward compromise was “dissipating as we speak.”
Democrats denounce Scott’s bill as too ineffective to protect Black Americans because of its reliance on financial incentives and data collection.
The Democratic and Republican bills address similar topics: chokeholds, no-knock warrants, police body cameras, use of deadly force, and training to de-escalate confrontations with suspects and to encourage officer intervention against illegal conduct as it occurs.
Republicans oppose the Democratic bill because of mandates they say could undermine law enforcement.
Reporting by David Morgan, additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle and Richard Cowan; editing by Peter Cooney, Jonathan Oatis and Grant McCool