SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:
Efforts to pass a bipartisan police reform bill stalled in the Senate this afternoon. Saying a Republican bill doesn't do enough, Senate Democrats voted against beginning debate on the legislation. The author of the bill, Republican Sen. Tim Scott, the only African American Republican in the Senate, is accusing Democrats of playing politics.
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TIM SCOTT: Instead of going forward and getting what you want now, they've decided to punt this ball until the election. You know why? - because they believe that the polls reflect a 15-point deficit on our side; therefore, they can get the bill they want in November. All they have to do is win the election.
MCCAMMON: And the man in charge of Senate Democrats joins me now.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.
CHUCK SCHUMER: Glad to be with you.
MCCAMMON: So, Senator, why not even let this bill come up for debate?
SCHUMER: Well, the bill was so deeply flawed that it was not fixable, even if they let us have a few amendments, and McConnell did not promise that we would get amendments. No Democrat was going to vote for it. And don't take our word for it. One-hundred-thirty-eight civil rights organizations led by the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights - let me read you what they wrote about this bill. (Reading) This bill falls woefully short of comprehensive reform needed to address the current policing crisis and achieve meaningful law enforcement accountability.
So this is not a political argument. What we want is sit down, have a bipartisan little group negotiate a bill, won't be everything we want, won't be everything you want, and then move it to the floor, and it can go negotiate with the House. And we've - that offer is on the table. Leader McConnell is a bully, and he thinks he can put a bill on the floor - put it on the floor, take it or leave it, and we'll say you don't want to do anything. My hope and prayer is that Leader McConnell will now understand we must pass a bill, create a bipartisan group, put a bipartisan bill on the floor, allow a fair amendment process, and we can get something done. We want to get something done very much.
MCCAMMON: So what is missing from the Republican police reform bill that makes it unacceptable to you and other Democrats?
SCHUMER: The list goes on and on and on. I can tell you this. If this bill were in effect, it wouldn't have saved Breonna Taylor because it does not stop no-knock entry in drug cases. The bill would not have saved George Floyd because it only importunes, but does not stop, chokeholds, and doesn't even ban the carotid hold, which killed so many others. That's when they constrict the blood flowing through your neck as opposed to the air flowing through your neck. It has no accountability. If a police officer does something wrong, our bill says that he can be held or she can be held accountable. There's no accountability in their bill. So the Republicans felt the heat. They knew they had to do something, but they didn't want to pass a real bill. And they created this cul-de-sac.
MCCAMMON: If the bill is so deficient as you say and as many civil rights groups say, why not, as Majority Leader Mitch McConnell suggests, bring it to the floor and debate it?
SCHUMER: He didn't promise us any amendments. And you need 60 votes to pass any amendment, and there were no Republicans who were going to vote for the amendment. If you don't have 60 votes, the amendments fail and you have the same junky bill. Everything we get done in this place in a significant way is done with bipartisan support from the beginning. If one party controls it, nothing can change, and this bill was so awful nothing would have changed in it if we went through McConnell's process.
MCCAMMON: Republicans say they believe that Democrats will pay a political price for blocking this bill, much as they said Democrats would pay a price for refusing to accept early versions of the CARES Act, which, of course, provided coronavirus relief.
SCHUMER: And guess what happened? We improved the CARES Act dramatically, and we made it much better for America. When you ask the protesters, when you ask the American people, who do you trust to come up with a good bill, the civil rights organizations or Mitch McConnell, what do you think they'll say?
MCCAMMON: You tell me.
SCHUMER: They will say the civil rights organizations. Mitch McConnell has never talked about these issues at all until now, when people are marching in the streets and some of his members said we have to do something. But doing something means doing something, not putting up a fig leaf and say, see, we have a bill. Now pass it.
MCCAMMON: But is there a risk, especially as you head into an election this fall, that it appears to voters, especially these suburban voters, moderate Republicans, swing voters, people who might have supported President Trump in the past or Republicans in the past but are turned off by President Trump, is there a risk for Democrats that you at least create the perception that you're unwilling to negotiate on these issues?
SCHUMER: No. I think if you do the right thing - we are willing to negotiate, but we will not be part of a process that will produce no result, and then Republicans can then say, hey, we did - we tried. Nothing worked. So no, I am not - I think we're doing the right thing here, and I think the public will understand that.
MCCAMMON: The Trump campaign has seized on calls by liberal activists during this time of debate about police reform to, as they put it, defund the police and have tried to paint Democrats as opposed to law enforcement. Is there a danger for Democrats that pushing harder for a different police reform bill will feed into that Republican narrative?
SCHUMER: No. I think the American people want to see a strong bill. And the bill we have does provide incentives and disincentives - carrots and sticks - so that police departments will do the things we ask. But no, I think the American people, if you look at it, 70% are for strong reform.
MCCAMMON: Why not allow the Republican bill to move forward, and if you get what you want in November, pass more police reforms, pass something stronger in a few months?
SCHUMER: Because this bill doesn't do anything to really improve things. Why can't we make a chance? Why should we try to just wait for November? Why can't we make a chance to do it right? That's what we've proposed.
MCCAMMON: As you know, last night was a primary night, and a couple of candidates who had your support faced formidable challenges from more progressive candidates, among them Eliot Engel of New York and Amy McGrath in Kentucky. Are you concerned that you might be misreading where your party is headed?
SCHUMER: No. Look; we're a very big tent, the Democratic Party is. And our goal, all of us - and on my leadership team is Bernie Sanders and - I have a 10-person leadership team. On it is Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, and on it is Mark Warner and Joe Manchin. As Democrats in the Senate, and I think in the country, we're going to come together and do everything we can to beat the Republicans.
MCCAMMON: Sen. Chuck Schumer, thank you.
SCHUMER: Nice to talk to you.
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