In an effort to avoid in-fighting among their own party, House Democrats rushed Wednesday to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, the most ambitious effort in decades to overhaul policing nationwide, reports the Associated Press. The bill would ban chokeholds and “qualified immunity” for law enforcement and create national standards for policing in a bid to bolster accountability. The debate over legislation has turned into a political liability for Democrats as Republicans seized on calls by some activists and progressives to “defund the police” to argue that Democrats were intent on slashing police force budgets. And while this bill doesn’t do that, moderate Democrats said the charge helped drive Democratic defeats in swing districts around the country.
Although Democrats now control both chambers of Congress, it seems unlikely the bill could pass the Senate without substantial changes to win GOP support. Despite the political attacks by Republicans, even the House’s more centrist lawmakers, some representing conservative districts, backed the bill. Police unions and other law enforcement groups have argued that, without such legal protections, fear of lawsuits will stop people from becoming police officers—even though the measure permits such suits only against law enforcement agencies, rather than all public employees. California Rep. Karen Bass, who authored the bill, conceded that changes are likely to come if the measure is to win the minimum 60 votes it will need to advance in the Senate, which is now split 50-50. Tim Scott, the only Black Republican in the chamber, said this week that the legislation’s sticking points were qualified immunity and prosecutorial standards and that in both areas, “We have to protect individual officers.”