It takes a lot in the year 2020 for a politician to say something that registers as genuinely outrageous, but House speaker Nancy Pelosi accomplished that feat earlier this week when she smeared Tim Scott of South Carolina and his fellow Senate Republicans as “trying to get away with . . . the murder of George Floyd” with Scott’s police-reform bill.
“We’re saying no chokeholds,” Pelosi said in a CBS Radio interview on Tuesday. “They’re not saying no chokeholds. I mean, there’s a big difference there. What’s the compromise? Some chokeholds? I don’t see what the compromise is.”
“For something to happen, they’re going to have to face the reality of police brutality, the reality of the need for justice in policing,” she added. “So far they’re trying to get away with murder, actually. The murder of George Floyd.” Asked later if she’d apologize, Pelosi refused and pretended she was only talking about Mitch McConnell and not Scott, the bill’s author.
On Wednesday, all Senate Republicans — joined by Senate Democrats Angus King of Maine, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, and Doug Jones of Alabama — voted to open debate on Scott’s police-reform bill. (Pelosi has not yet commented on whether the three Senate Democrats are also trying to “get away with” the “murder of George Floyd.”)
Having fallen four votes short of the 60 necessary to advance the bill, Tim Scott took to the Senate floor to explain what went wrong. Pelosi had accused Senate Republicans of “one of the most heinous things I can imagine,” Scott said. The South Carolina Republican pointed out that neither the House Democrats’ bill nor the Senate Republicans’ bill banned chokeholds at the state or local level. “You know why? There’s this little thing called the Constitution. They can’t ban chokeholds,” Scott said. The federal government may only cajole local governments into banning chokeholds (except when lethal force is appropriate) by reducing federal funding. “We would reduce funding by 20 percent,” Scott said of his bill. “They reduced funding by 10 percent. So our penalty was twice the penalty of the other side, and this is supposed to be an issue.”
Scott acknowledged that, in addition to pushing local governments into banning chokeholds that cut off air flow, Democrats wanted to ban holds that cut off blood flow through the carotid artery. “Ours only covered one, not the other. I said, ‘Okay, you have an amendment. I’ll vote for it. We’ll change it,’” Scott said.
In fact, Scott offered more than 20 amendments. But it wasn’t good enough for Senate Democrats. “Why wouldn’t you take the 80 percent now, see if you can win the election and add on the other 20 percent?” Scott asked toward the end of his speech.
It was a good question. It’s too bad it was rhetorical. “They believe that campaigning on police brutality is more important than solving police brutality,” Scott tells National Review in a phone interview. “The goal was not to actually get on the legislation.”
Senator Angus King said that refusing to open debate on Scott’s bill in the Senate last week “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.” But Scott doesn’t rule out the possibility that the Senate may try again. “We have been thinking about taking pieces of the [House] legislation and putting it on the floor,” he says. The senator notes that the most important police reforms “can’t start in Washington, D.C. . . . It should start in Minneapolis and Atlanta and Los Angeles and Cleveland.”
“What we saw in Minneapolis is called ‘murder.’ It’s already illegal,” Scott says. But local governments have direct authority to ban chokeholds, require de-escalation training, and curb the power of police unions that protect the small number of bad cops.
Still, Scott thinks there is an important role for the federal government to play in encouraging several reforms, some of which he has been working on for years. And although you wouldn’t know it from Nancy Pelosi and much of the mainstream-media coverage, Scott has earned praise from some unlikely sources for his efforts. “As someone who is not a huge fan of the Republican Party or its tactics,” Michael Harriot wrote at The Root on June 19, “it might pain some to hear this as much as it pains me to say it, but the truth is, the GOP bill is more likely to stop cops from killing black people.”
Editor’s Note: This article has been emended since its initial publication.