WASHINGTON - The House on Thursday was poised to pass an expansive Democratic-led police reform measure, the party's response to the public clamor for changes in law enforcement practices after the death of George Floyd.

The vote was expected to be along party lines as the Trump administration has threatened a veto of the measure, and Senate Republicans have signaled the legislation stands no chance in their chamber.

The partisan outcome underscored the election-year struggle in Congress to find consensus despite a national crisis over race and policing that has sparked protests nationwide and shifted public opinion.

The bill is named for Floyd, a 46-year-old black man whose killing in Minneapolis police custody last month sparked a nationwide outcry and sweeping demonstrations against systemic racism and police brutality. Three parents of victims in other cases of police violence that have drawn national attention also threw their support behind the bill Thursday.

The House legislation would ban chokeholds, establish a national database to track police misconduct and prohibit certain no-knock warrants, among other initiatives. The bill, which has more than 200 Democratic co-sponsors, contains several provisions that would make it easier to hold officers accountable for misconduct in civil and criminal court.

WDAY logo
listen live
watch live
Newsletter signup for email alerts

Many of the proposals were crafted long ago but are garnering attention now amid the nationwide protests in response to Floyd's death.

During the debate Thursday, Democrats argued that the measure was long overdue, with some African American lawmakers recounting their own experiences. "We have a national problem of police brutality … It requires a national solution," said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y. "Here in America, every black mother and every black father has to have the talk with their child about what to do when approached by police. Any encounter can turn deadly, not because of criminal conduct but because of the color of their skin."

Jeffries said he had the talk with his two sons - and it was similar to the talk he had with his father decades ago.

"Nothing has changed," Jeffries said.

Republicans countered that federal mandates go too far. Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz., says most police are "good, honest people trying to help our community," so lawmakers shouldn't "throw the baby out with the bathwater."

Rep. Glenn Grothman, R-Wis., criticized the Democratic measure. "They don't want to talk about it when white people are killed," Grothman said, later asking: "What's going to happen when we have a timid, neutered police force?"

At a news conference Thursday morning outside the Capitol, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Karen Bass of California, and other Democrats hailed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act as a transformative measure.

The bill, Pelosi said, "will fundamentally transform the culture of policing to address systemic racism, curb police brutality and bring accountability to our police departments. It will save lives."

Recent polls show overwhelming public support for changes to policing: In a national Associated Press-NORC survey this month, a majority of respondents said they support changes such as requiring officers to wear body cameras and prosecuting those who use excessive force.

But the prospects for bipartisan agreement on Capitol Hill have grown dim. Trump has vowed to veto the House legislation, arguing that it goes too far in imposing federal mandates. At a news conference Wednesday, the president accused Democrats of wanting to "weaken our police" and "take away immunity."

A Republican effort led by South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott failed to advance in the Senate on Wednesday after Democrats blocked the measure, which they argued fell far short of what was needed to meaningfully change policing tactics.

The House bill has been endorsed by leading civil rights organizations, the Brady gun control group, major city mayors and more than 750 entertainment industry artists including Mariah Carey, Rihanna and Lizzo.

On Thursday, three people who have firsthand experience with police violence also joined the list: In a joint statement, the mothers of Tamir Rice and Eric Garner and the father of John Crawford III expressed their support for the bill.

"The unjust killing of a loved one, especially at the hands of law enforcement, is a pain too many families have been forced to endure," Samaria Rice, Gwen Carr and John Crawford Jr. said in the statement. "We are proud to support this effort because it's the right thing to do. From banning chokeholds to eliminating no-knock warrants, this bill will hold officers accountable to the communities they serve and compel them to have a guardian mentality, not a warrior mentality."

For Samaria Rice, the expected passage of the House bill comes on the day her son would have turned 18 years old. In November 2014, 12 year-old Tamir Rice was holding a toy gun when he was shot and killed by a Cleveland police officer.

In an interview with The Washington Post, Rice said broad policing reform has been too long in coming.

"Maybe my son will still be alive today if they would've did it," she said.

Garner died in July 2014 after being put into a chokehold by a New York City police officer. Crawford was shot and killed by police the following month while holding an air gun in a Walmart outside Dayton, Ohio.

As the debate over the House measure was underway, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., delivered a floor speech in which he excoriated Democrats for blocking Scott's bill.

"The American people know you do not really want progress on an issue if you block the Senate from taking it up," McConnell said. "They know that most police officers are brave and honorable and that most protesters are peaceful. And they know our country needs both."

House Republicans made similar arguments, with Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., accusing Democrats of taking actions that "poison the discussion" over police reform by rejecting the GOP legislation.

Meanwhile, at the Capitol news conference Thursday morning, Bass said the expected passage of the House bill marked a momentous occasion for "not just the Black Caucus, but the entire Democratic caucus, as we join together to finally bring about the change the founding members of the CBC valiantly fought for."

"On May 25, 2020, our world changed," Bass said. "This time was different. This time, the video just couldn't be questioned. The slow murder of George Floyd that took place over eight minutes and forty-six seconds was just not up for speculation."

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., a former CBC chairman, said that this time, lawmakers "cannot succumb to congressional timidity." And Pelosi described the choice facing the Senate in stark terms.

"When we pass this bill," she said, "the Senate will have a choice: to honor George Floyd's life, or to do nothing."

- - -

The Washington Post's Seung Min Kim contributed to this report.

This article was written by Felicia Sonmez, Paul Kane and Rhonda Colvin, reporters for The Washington Post.