By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
Republican use of the Senate Filibuster and their disinformation campaign against it led Democrats to “pull the plug” on talks to pass the George Floyd Police Reform Act.
California Congresswoman Karen Bass said this during a Zoom meeting with Black publishers and reporters of the National Newspaper Publishers
Association (NNPA), the leading Black press organization in the nation.
Bass said she did not want voters or activists who supported the legislation to believe the Congressional Black Caucus had fumbled the ball as it sought to push it over the legislative goal line.
Instead, Congressional Republicans led by Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina launched a disinformation campaign against the legislation, claiming Democrats supported a non-existent provision to defund the police, she said.
According to Bass, even after Senator Corey Booker of New Jersey had secured law enforcement support for the bill, Scott and the GOP used such rhetoric to sabotage efforts to get the bill passed.
She said such disinformation led Booker, who was working with Scott and other Republicans to get a deal, to pull the plug on talks to get it done.
Bass said she hoped the failure does not weaken the 2022 mid-term turnout and loss of the House and Senate because of the perception that the Democrats could not get police reform done.
If Democrats are successful in expanding the number of Senators to overcome the Filibuster, police reform could be passed in the next Congress, she believes.
Rep. Bass, who represents California’s 37 Congressional District, is stepping down from the House to run for mayor of Los Angeles. She is a member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism.
The police reform bill was crafted in response to street protests triggered by the death of Floyd, due to a white Minneapolis Police officer kneeling on his neck.
The legislation has a wide range of reforms, including the end to such policies as Qualified Immunity, no-knock warrants, chokeholds, data collection for racial profiling, the militarization of police, and lowering the standards for convicting officers accused of misconduct.
Bass, the former Chair of the CBC, helped write the bill, and it was introduced in January 2021 and passed a month later.
Once it left the House, it landed in the Senate where the Democrats are tied with Republicans 50-50. The GOP, she said, applied the Filibuster rule requiring 60 votes to overcome it. No Republicans were willing to lend their vote to do so.
Rep. Bass, Senators Corey Booker of New Jersey, and Tim Scott of South Carolina, all African Americans, led the effort to broker a deal and get the Senate approval.
The bill has passed twice in the House, she told the NNPA representatives.
One of the main sticking points, according to Bass, dealt with the policy of Qualified Immunity, which offers police officers broad protections from lawsuits, such as in police brutality cases.
Bass said the CATO Institute a Libertarian-leaning think tank and Constance Rice, a liberal California civil rights lawyer and the cousin of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, helped the three work out a compromise specifically on the Qualified Immunity, and
several other issues Republicans did not like.
There was no solid compromise agreement but Bass said they were moving toward a general agreement.
Bass said before they could “sign off” on an agreement formula, the Senate took over the negotiations and she felt that she and the two Senators were moving forward.
But the talks dragged on and she saw opportunities “slip away”
to build momentum for a day of agreement.
Bass said that last year, the CBC had the momentum as “hundreds of thousands” of people were out on the streets protesting Floyd’s killing.
The 2020 presidential campaign, calls for defunding police departments, officers quitting due to low morale, and an uptick in violent crime caused her to fear that momentum would ‘flip-flop” in the opposite direction, “where it is now”.
At one point, Scott told Booker if they could bring the police onboard into the talks, he could “get it over the finish line.”
Booker did it, Bass said, and negotiated a deal with the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP).
Booker took the deal to Scott, who in turn leaked it. The National Association of Police Organizations (NAPO) then attacked Booker and the legislative process.
Bass said “unfortunately we felt there was no other place to go,” and Booker pulled the plug.
Bass told the NNPA representatives Scott went out and said Democrats could not reach a deal because they supported defunding the police.
Bass said the bill did call for “conditioning” grants to police based on their reform efforts but not defunding.
Bass said despite the failure of the CBC to convince Senate Republicans to support the Floyd Bill, she was encouraged by the reforms being undertaken by state lawmakers and locales.
She said she encouraged the Black Press to inform the public of the GOP plots to foil reform and the three George Floyd-like deaths which occur each day.
After Floyd’s death, she looked at 100 deaths caused by police and most involved mental health issues. She said the bill would have provided more funding for social workers to respond to such cases and not police.
She said a recent FBI report noted a 29 percent increase in violent crimes in the country due to demoralized police who are saying the rhetoric and the effort to reform has “tied their hands.”
Bass told the NNPA that it was unfair that supporters of police blame the CBC and Democrats, who control the White House, House, and Senate for the failure to pass police reform.
Dr. Ben Chavis, CEO of the NNPA, agreed with Bass that the Black press should join forces to inform the public of the GOP obstruction and disinformation campaign related to defunding the police ahead of the November 2022 election.
Chavis urged Bass to push the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Election Committee to support advertising in the Black press to accomplish this mission.