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Collins criticizes Dem leader after Senate GOP police bill hits roadblock

Senate Dems voted against the bill Wednesday. "The Senate should not squander this historic opportunity to make a difference for communities of color," Collins said.
Credit: AP
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, asks questions during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing, Tuesday, June 23, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington, to discuss the lessons learned during the coronavirus. (Greg Nash/Pool via AP)

WASHINGTON, D.C., USA — A Republican policing bill has hit a roadblock as Senate Democrats voted against it Wednesday as inadequate. That leaves the parties to decide whether to negotiate a compromise or walk away despite public outcry over the killings of Black Americans. 

The vote fell short of the 60 votes needed to advance the bill with a 55 to 45 vote. Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) was among a handful of non-Democrat senators to vote with Republicans to advance the bill. 

“The bill I voted to start consideration of today does not enact nearly enough change to address the magnitude of the deep-seated problems of racial injustice facing our nation – but it was the only option before us to debate, and hopefully, come to a bipartisan resolution on this vitally important issue,” King said in a statement. 

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) voiced criticism of the Democratic leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and said the vote should have been unanimous.

"It is truly stunning that the Democratic leader blocked even beginning debate on police reform legislation," Collins said in a statement. "The killing of George Floyd laid bare longstanding racial injustices in this country. Now is the time for action."

Collins continued to say Wednesday's vote was not about passing a final bill but was rather a vote that would "allow Democrats and Republicans alike to begin discussing, debating, and amending a proposal that will bring needed reforms to lessen racial injustices and to reform practices in police departments."

“I felt we should have begun the conversation on the floor, with amendments available to help strengthen the legislation into something better," King said. "While I understand the reservations of those who saw this bill as flawed, I believe a floor debate would build awareness and support for the broader measures that are needed here. On a topic this important, I did not want to miss what might be our best opportunity to get something done."

“If you don't think we're right, make it better, don't walk away,” the GOP bill's author Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) implored Wednesday.

The Republican proposal in the Senate calls for an enhanced use-of-force database, restrictions on chokeholds, and new commissions to study law enforcement and race. Senate Republicans say it would limit the federal government’s role while still making significant changes in policing.

On Tuesday, top Democratic leaders in the Senate said the Republicans' proposal is "not salvageable." Democrats want greater changes in police tactics and accountability. They're backed by leading civil rights groups. 

Democrats want something similar to a far-reaching proposal from House Democrats – the Justice in Policing Act – that would create a national database of excessive-force encounters, limit legal protections for police and ban police chokeholds. The bill is expected to pass the House later this week. 

RELATED: A side-by-side look at police reform bills in Congress

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) says Democrats are engaging in “political nonsense.” The impasse threatens to turn the nationwide protests over the deaths of George Floyd and others into a moment that galvanizes the nation but leaves lawmakers unable to act. The House is set to approve the Democratic bill on Thursday.  

King said he is "disappointed" that McConnell "refuses to engage in any meaningful discussions to address the shortcomings in this bill."

"[I] urge him to reconsider his approach in the days ahead, emphasizing real reforms instead of political points," King continued. "Americans deserve results, and they should see us in the Senate doing the job they sent us here to do. This body is up to the task if Leader McConnell lets us work together, instead of insisting we stand opposed.”

In an interview with NEWS CENTER Maine on Wednesday via Zoom, King emphasized the need for hearings and discussions about both bills. 

"Let’s take a deep breath, send these two bills to the judiciary committee, and go through the normal process," King said. "Have hearings, bring in experts from around the country to talk about what these issues are, what’s good in both bills, how we might be able to negotiate and come together on a bipartisan solution. That’s the way this should be done.” 

Watch NEWS CENTER Maine's interview with King here:

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

"The Senate should not squander this historic opportunity to make a difference for communities of color," Collins said. 

Collins' full statement:

“It is truly stunning that the Democratic leader blocked even beginning debate on police reform legislation. The killing of George Floyd laid bare longstanding racial injustices in this country. Now is the time for action.

If we are sincere about making progress, today’s vote to simply agree to begin debating this wide-ranging police reform bill should have been unanimous. The JUSTICE Act, authored by Senator Tim Scott, would increase accountability, improve training, promote diversity in law enforcement, and penalize police departments that do not ban chokeholds. The bill contains a number of other proposals that have broad, bipartisan support, including provisions I co-sponsored making lynching a federal crime and establishing two commissions that would offer solutions to challenges facing black men and boys and the criminal justice system as a whole.

Today’s vote was not about passing a final bill. It was a vote to allow Democrats and Republicans alike to begin discussing, debating, and amending a proposal that will bring needed reforms to lessen racial injustices and to reform practices in police departments. The Senate should not squander this historic opportunity to make a difference for communities of color.”

King's full statement:

"The bill I voted to start consideration of today does not enact nearly enough change to address the magnitude of the deep-seated problems of racial injustice facing our nation – but it was the only option before us to debate, and hopefully, come to a bipartisan resolution on this vitally important issue. My concern was that voting against it will end the discussion of this subject in the Senate for the foreseeable future, and leave us with nothing to show for all the energy and passion that has brought this issue to the forefront of public consciousness. I felt we should have begun the conversation on the floor, with amendments available to help strengthen the legislation into something better. While I understand the reservations of those who saw this bill as flawed, I believe a floor debate would build awareness and support for the broader measures that are needed here. On a topic this important, I did not want to miss what might be our best opportunity to get something done.

Now that the legislation has failed to advance, I hope that this body will come together around a real debate in both the Judiciary Committee and on the Senate floor. In talking with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle and with my constituents in Maine, there is a broad consensus that reforms are needed in how police departments interact with the communities they serve, especially communities of color – so let’s do bipartisan work to produce legislation that can address the challenge. We should use the committee process to construct a better bill that responds to the concerns of the thousands of peaceful protesters who raised their voice and called for change. I’m disappointed that Leader McConnell refuses to engage in any meaningful discussions to address the shortcomings in this bill, and urge him to reconsider his approach in the days ahead, emphasizing real reforms instead of political points. Americans deserve results, and they should see us in the Senate doing the job they sent us here to do. This body is up to the task if Leader McConnell lets us work together, instead of insisting we stand opposed.

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