Today, my colleagues on the other side of the aisle voted to block consideration of the JUSTICE Act, the first major piece of police reform legislation in years.
To be clear, this vote wasn’t a vote to pass the bill in the Senate. It wasn’t even a vote to limit debate on police reform. It was a vote on whether to begin a debate on police reform.
We’re standing on the floor of the world’s greatest deliberative body, yet my colleagues on the other side won’t even entertain a debate on an issue that has stirred our nation and shaken it to its core.
The Senate’s legacy and prestige is built on our ability to debate and discuss legislation to address the most pressing issues in the country. My colleagues on the other side have robbed the American people of the opportunity to pass meaningful police reform.
They argue that the JUSTICE Act doesn’t go far enough, and that their version of police reform is the only bill worth considering. I must remind them that we live in a country with diverse ideas and varying opinions. Debating those differences is the only way to make meaningful reforms.
Democrats complained that their views weren’t represented in the bill. Well, the JUSTICE Act contains a number of proposals that have bipartisan support. And Democrats would still have the opportunity to make additional changes.
Senator Tim Scott, the author of the JUSTICE Act, made clear when the bill was introduced that he was interested and willing to discuss changes. Leader McConnell pledged an open amendment process. Even Speaker Pelosi noted that she welcomes the opportunity to conference the Democrat House’s police reform bill with the JUSTICE Act.
But instead of letting our time-honored, legislative process work, my colleagues sent a letter calling the Justice Act “unsalvageable.” Let’s remember, these are the same Senators who insisted that the Senate consider a police reform bill before the July recess. But now that they’re getting what they asked for, they say they don’t want it anymore.
My question is what are they afraid of?
Are they afraid of losing control of the process if it goes to a vote? Well then they’re afraid of democracy and the American people who elected each Senator in this body and trusted them to represent them by voting on legislation.
Are they afraid that their ideas won’t be adopted? The JUSTICE Act has many similarities to the Justice in Policing Act. We want to find a way forward on a bipartisan basis. If ideas have merit, they will be voted on and included.
Are they afraid that if we make progress, it will be perceived as giving the President and his party a win? I’ve been around enough to know that in an election year, it gets harder to get things done because neither party wants to let the other get an advantage.
But on an issue as important as this, it’s the height of cynicism and hypocrisy to prevent progress to gain a political advantage. But I’m reminded of a scripture, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, but lose his soul.”
The American people expect better. I know Iowans do. Frankly I expect better too. I hope my colleagues reconsider their obstruction and let us get on with crafting a bipartisan police reform bill.
I know my colleagues on the other side share our desire to deliver for our constituents. I don’t doubt their sincerity about wanting to address inequities in our communities or unfairness in policing. I don’t doubt they have legitimate ideas on how to improve legislation before us. But at the very least, we have to begin the debate.
We’ve done it before on other difficult issues. Only eighteen months ago, this chamber passed the First Step Act, the most significant criminal justice reform bill in a generation. That was a strong bipartisan bill. It wasn’t easy, but we found a path forward and are giving thousands of Americans a chance to improve their lives when they leave prison.
I’m frustrated that the Senate can’t consider the JUSTICE Act. But, I promise Iowans and the American people that this partisan exercise doesn’t represent my hope for meaningful change.
I stand ready to work with any Democrat or any Republican on the issue of police reform. And I know I’m not alone. In fact, at the Judiciary Committee hearing last week on police use of force and community relations, Chairman Graham indicated that he wants to hold more hearings on the issue.
So, I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to not let today’s vote be the end of the story. This is – and has been – an evergreen issue.
George Floyd’s murder was the spark that ignited a national outcry. We must rise to the occasion. We cannot let election-year politics and differences of opinion prevent us from even discussing how best to improve justice and safety in our communities.