Police Reform Unlikely To Pass Congress : Politics Podcast : The NPR Politics Podcast A day after Democrats blocked a Republican proposal in the Senate, they are set to pass a reform plan of their own in the House. Lawmakers appear pessimistic about the chances of compromise legislation.

This episode: White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe, congressional reporter Claudia Grisales, and congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell.

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Congress Probably Won't Agree On Police Reform

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Congress Probably Won't Agree On Police Reform

Congress Probably Won't Agree On Police Reform

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BERTIE: Hey, y'all, this is Bertie (ph) calling from Key Best (ph), my fictional island in the Animal Crossing game. This podcast was recorded at...

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

It's 2:05 p.m. on Thursday, June 25.

BERTIE: Things may have changed by the time you hear this. All right. Here's the show.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIGTOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE (MARCH AND TWO-STEP)")

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Wait, so is Key Best a play on be best?

RASCOE: Maybe. At full disclosure, I thought that game, Animal Crossing, was about, like, getting hit by a car or something - or avoiding it.

(LAUGHTER)

RASCOE: Hey there. It's the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. I'm Ayesha Rascoe. I cover the White House.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: I'm Claudia Grisales. I cover Congress.

SNELL: And I'm Kelsey Snell. I also cover Congress.

RASCOE: So later tonight, House Democrats are expected to pass their police reform package. But at this point, despite all of the pressure and the unrest and the protests, Claudia, we really don't expect this to go anywhere, right?

GRISALES: Right. It looks like Senate Republicans don't have any interest in taking up this Democratic proposal. And it's not very surprising. It has a lot of measures that Republicans won't support, such as reforming qualified immunity. This is a legal shield that protects police officers from certain penalties, consequences when it comes to misconduct. And it goes as far as installing bans for federal police when it comes to chokeholds and no-knock warrants in drug-related cases. Republicans don't go that far in terms of their proposal. So this is why we don't expect it to get past the House even if it passes today.

RASCOE: And Senate Republicans, yesterday, they tried to take their legislation that they have on policing and they tried to at least, I guess, bring it up for a debate. But Democrats blocked that legislation, right?

SNELL: Yeah. So Democrats announced a day or so before the vote even happened that they weren't going to agree to open up amendments. You know, this is kind of a processy (ph) thing, right? It might seem silly to say, you know, we don't want to have amendments on a bill that we think we don't like. But Democrats' argument was that they weren't really guaranteed that they would be allowed to do any substantive amendments. They called it a cul-de-sac. They were worried that they were kind of being led down a path only to come back out and be, you know, facing the exact same bill all over again. They also said that what Republicans had put out there just wasn't something they could amend. They said it was just so bad that there wasn't a sufficient starting point for them to start making amendments.

You know, part of the problem here is that Republicans and Democrats are kind of speaking a different language when it comes to police reform. Democrats say that the actions that need to be taken here are setting federal standards that everyone must abide by and having penalties if people don't abide by them. And Republicans are saying that policing is still by and large a state and local issue and that the role of the federal government here is to set standards that people can voluntarily choose to meet. And then it's the role of the federal government to create incentives so local and state police departments will want to meet those standards. Democrats say that that is just not enough to meet the moment and the demands of the protests following the killing of George Floyd.

RASCOE: And so it's really a question of whether you want to do incentives - like, Republicans are trying to incentivize the police departments to take certain action whereas Democrats want to force this to happen. They don't want it to be just a nice thing for you to do. They want to set a floor for the way that police departments have to operate.

SNELL: Well, one of the arguments that I hear a lot from Democrats is that if there are not federal standards that are part of law, then it's really hard for local police chiefs to say, you know, I am choosing to enforce this. I actually talked to a couple of Democrats who said they thought this would be useful if, say, you're a local mayor who wants to, say, ban chokeholds or - what they're called - carotid holds, which is another type of hold that has - that Democrats say is too deadly to be allowed.

They're saying if you are a local mayor and you want to follow those standards, it's much easier to go about that by saying, you know, this is the law and I'm upholding the law than it is to say, I'm voluntarily choosing to take away a power that the police department currently uses.

GRISALES: One point I'd like to point out is Republicans said, we will get to the same end. We will just take different means to get there. And they say by incentivizing, by focusing on training that entails de-escalation tactics, that you will see less use of these dangerous restraints, such as chokeholds.

And one argument they had was that the bans that Democrats are pushing through their legislation, they don't apply on the level to local state police. And that is the concern, that they're not able to exercise these same bans when it comes to the local level. And Republicans say you've got to incentivize that.

RASCOE: And that's because of the Constitution, right? The Congress can only do so much because policing is really under local jurisdictions, right?

GRISALES: Yes.

SNELL: I mean, that goes back to the whole speaking different languages thing, right? Is it - if they have completely different beliefs about what the role of government is here, what it should be and what it's constitutionally allowed to be, it's really hard to ever, you know, compromise if your foundational difference is an interpretation of the Constitution.

RASCOE: And, you know, I hate to talk about politics, but this is a political podcast, so I really don't hate to talk about it.

(LAUGHTER)

RASCOE: But this is an election year. You know, it's also this moment where you have these rapidly shifting political, you know, public opinions about race and police. Do the Democrats feel like they have that political leverage here that they could force concessions because they feel like they have the public more on their side?

GRISALES: It seems that they are confident that they have political leverage. And by that, I mean the elections are approaching. They're hearing public opinion. We're seeing polls where the vast majority of Americans want aggressive action. They want bans on chokeholds, for example. So they think they're on the right side of this debate. And they're kind of hanging their hopes on if we do well in November, then perhaps we have hope for this legislation to move under a new administration.

SNELL: You know, I think a big part of the leverage here, too, is that Democrats in the Senate are unified in that belief. Because we've seen in a lot of other cases in previous years there are times when Democrats will get split by fears that, you know, that their personal electoral pool might not agree with what seems to be the national push, right? So you see moderates particularly in the House worrying that, you know, that they could lose as the rest of the party seems to push towards some more progressive stance. That doesn't seem to be the case here.

We saw two Democrats vote with Republicans to start debate on the policing bill. But even they said that they weren't guaranteeing that they would vote for the final product. They were just agreeing to have more conversation. Democrats are really unified in their belief that, as Claudia said, the polls show that the public is with them.

RASCOE: So another sign of just the change that has happened when it comes to this idea of policing. OK. Let's take a quick break, and we'll talk more about this when we get back.

And we're back. And I wanted to take a moment to talk about Senator Tim Scott who's been leading the Republican efforts in the Senate to get this bill passed. Scott is the lone black Republican senator. I mean, there are just two black Democratic senators. I had to point that out. There's not a lot of, you know, black senators in general, but he's the lone black Republican senator, so he's gotten a lot of attention because he's in this interesting position where he's talked about racism and racial profiling by the police that he's experienced, right, Claudia? So he's been kind of taking on this issue.

GRISALES: Yes. This has really been his moment. He says he's been pulled over. A lot of profiles have been done this past week. He's been pulled over 18 times, and he says he feels fortunate that he's been able to walk away each time. And he's been telling his story through these really impassioned floor speeches over the last few weeks as to how he came to sponsor this bill. He approached Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell during a GOP luncheon and said, I'm the guy. I'm the guy to do this. During a speech yesterday, he talked about the loss of not being able to move forward with this legislation. He was trying to remind his colleagues what brought everyone together initially, and that was the death of George Floyd. Let's take a listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TIM SCOTT: His murder is why the country has given us the opportunity to lead - to lead - and my friends on the other side just said no.

GRISALES: So, clearly, you can hear his disappointment there in terms of not being able to reach this agreement with Democrats to move this bill forward. He had hoped that they would be debating the bill by now, but not this time, and he said it's kind of a lost moment of the momentum that they were hoping to capture.

RASCOE: And Scott is really close to the White House, to President Trump, even though at times Scott is - he is critical of President Trump and some of the comments that he makes about race. But Scott is also a conservative. He is - and he is someone who he stopped short of attributing even, you know, all of his being stopped by the police, he doesn't attribute that necessarily to systemic racism.

SNELL: Yeah. He has been asked about that a lot lately because Democrats say that you have to confront the question of systemic racism in the process of reforming policing. They see these two things as being completely intertwined and, you know, Tim Scott rejects that.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SCOTT: We would have broken this concept in this nation that somehow some way you have to either be for law enforcement or for communities of color. That is a false binary choice. It's just not true.

SNELL: And that is, in some ways, part of the disagreement that we're seeing between Democrats and Republicans. They don't agree on that premise, and that is foundational to the way that Democrats are approaching their bill. And his view is also foundational to the way that Republicans are approaching theirs.

GRISALES: And, Ayesha, in the background of all of this, there was this pretty general outline of the president. He had this vision to address aspects of policing and racial inequities. What's going on there now?

RASCOE: President Trump did sign the executive order last week, and we talked about it a bit. The order tied federal grants to police departments getting more certifications, basically trying to get them to do more training, more up-to-date training. And it would also set up a database to help track police officers who engage in misconduct and trying to help police officers partner with social workers and other kind of advocates to help deal with, like, calls dealing with mental illness or addiction and things of that nature. So that's still ongoing. But Trump does say that he supports the Senate Republican bill, and he has made clear that any legislation that he gets behind does need to have the backing of law enforcement. And so he was asked about the Democrats' actions yesterday, and he basically accused the Democrats of wanting to weaken the police. And he's positioning himself as kind of the opposite of that.

SNELL: See, this is - this gets to - particularly the question of qualified immunity is something that we have heard. Police unions and other police representatives oppose and Democrats say it's something that must be in any bill. They think that police officers should be held personally liable for actions they take on the job. And they say that if somebody has in the back of their mind that they could have, you know, civil litigation consequences for using force, that they'll think twice about using force. And Republicans say, yes, that's exactly the point. If they're thinking twice about using force, they're thinking twice in the process of policing, and it could be dangerous for them. So again that fundamental difference.

RASCOE: OK. Let's leave it there for today. We'll be back tomorrow with our weekly roundup, which we end every week with Can't Let It Go, the part of the show where we talk about the things we can't stop thinking about, politics or otherwise. My favorite is the otherwise. And we want to know what you can't let go of. Let us know by recording yourself and sending it to nprpolitics@npr.org. I'm Ayesha Rascoe. I cover the White House.

GRISALES: I'm Claudia Grisales. I cover Congress.

SNELL: And I'm Kelsey Snell. I also cover Congress.

RASCOE: And thank you for listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIGTOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE (MARCH AND TWO-STEP)")

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