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In showdown power play, most Senate Democrats will vote no if McConnell calls GOP police reform bill

“I, for one, do not intend to be played,” said Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., leading a charge against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on policing legislation.

Senators Speak To Media After Weekly Policy Luncheons
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) speaks at a news conference on police legislation with Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) on Tuesday, June 23, 2020
Alex Wong/Getty Images

In a showdown power play, most Senate Democrats on Wednesday will vote no on a test vote to determine if a Republican-authored police reform bill can advance.

“I, for one, do not intend to be played,” said Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., a potential Joe Biden running mate, leading a charge against the tactics of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on policing legislation.

Both Illinois Senators, Democrats Dick Durbin — a key player on police reform — and Tammy Duckworth plan to vote against the “motion to proceed.”

“We need to reckon with the real, deep, uncomfortable realities and systemic biases that have marred our country for centuries,” Duckworth said in her floor speech.

Though there are 53 Senate Republicans, it takes 60 votes for this motion to pass under Senate rules. That gives the Senate Democrats considerable bargaining power as long as they stick together and deny Republicans the extra seven votes they need.

Breaking this down:

This moment in history: Police misconduct is not new. That there is national will to address this festering issue is due to outrage sparked when George Floyd, a Black man, died at the hands of a white Minneapolis police officer who pinned him down with a knee to his neck. Floyd’s death highlighted other cases.

McConnell’s politics: The Kentucky senator is up for reelection in November. Democrats see getting rid of McConnell almost as crucial as denying President Donald Trump a second term because McConnell’s priority is the confirmation of Trump’s federal judges.

As I write this Tuesday – primary day in Kentucky – it’s not known yet if McConnell will face a white woman, Amy McGrath, or Charles Booker, who is Black, whose campaign gained considerable steam after Floyd died.

Police in Louisville, Kentucky, are in the spotlight, following the death of Breonna Taylor last March, when officers fired 10 rounds in her apartment, which they entered on a no-knock warrant.

McConnell did not act until public sentiment shifted because of Floyd and Trump signed an executive order last week with some police reforms.

The Democratic House: On Thursday, the House, on the strength of Democrat votes, will pass the “George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020,’’ filed on June 8. This is a sweeping measure incorporating several proposals members of the Congressional Black Caucus have been working on for years. Some House Republicans are expected on the roll call.

The Republican Senate: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he will call a test vote Wednesday for the JUSTICE Act, the police reform bill written by Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., the lone Black Senate Republican, and introduced June 17. It is narrower than the House bill.

McConnell and Scott said they want to compromise. McConnell is rejecting going to the Senate Judiciary Committee – of which Durbin is a member – first.

In a Tuesday letter to McConnell, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and Harris and Cory Booker of New Jersey – the Senate’s two Black Democrats — wrote, “This bill is not salvageable and we need bipartisan talks to get to a constructive starting point.”

Durbin in his floor speech argued a deal is more likely if negotiations came first. “What we should avoid is a rush to have a partisan vote on the floor of the Senate before we’ve even tried to find common ground. So far, unfortunately that’s all that Mitch McConnell offers us.”

McConnell at a news conference noted Democrats don’t trust him, but they don’t have to since when it comes to amending Scott’s bill they have leverage because of the 60-vote rule. That only goes so far.

On Wednesday, Republicans will try to blame Democrats for stopping police reform the instant the Senate test vote fails, if indeed McConnell calls it. But the reform push is not stopping, since the House votes Thursday, tossing the ball back to McConnell.