“I just wish that we could focus on a public-safety package that unites the caucus instead of dividing the caucus,” said Congressional Progressive Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.). | Elaine Thompson/AP Photo
“I just wish that we could focus on a public-safety package that unites the caucus instead of dividing the caucus,” said Congressional Progressive Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), who argued that Democrats should pass the gun measure even without an agreement on the policing bills.
Senior Democrats insist the fight isn’t over. Party leaders vowed to try again when the chamber returns in the next few weeks to vote on their signature healthcare bill, in a brief interruption to their extended August recess. But it’s unclear exactly how Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her leadership team will resolve the chaotic scramble that left them short on votes and struggling to hold together a fragile majority. In a perfect storm of pushback, Pelosi and her deputies must confront concerns from progressives, vulnerable centrists and key groups like the Congressional Black Caucus — all with just four votes to spare.
“We have a diverse caucus, and a really slim margin,” said Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), a member of Pelosi’s whip team. But as he faces a tough reelection, Kildee said he’s hearing pleas back home for more reinforcement for local police.
“Particularly on legislation that deals with smaller police departments, we’ve got to provide help there,” Kildee added. “There are legitimate questions about accountability we need to address, but the communities I represent don’t have adequate policing, don’t have enough people on the force.”
Passing a policing and public safety package was always going to be a difficult one for Democrats. It took months for lawmakers, led by Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), to land the votes for even the assault weapons ban, an enormous party priority, with several rural Democrats opposed to the measure.
The trickier political problem wound up being something else entirely: How to support police without ignoring widespread calls among Democrats for more oversight. And that turned into an even more fundamental debate about what role law enforcement should serve in their communities.
“It’s not about defunding, it’s about defining. And I think that’s the debate that’s going on,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva. | Getty Images
“It’s not about defunding, it’s about defining. And I think that’s the debate that’s going on,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), a senior progressive. “I don’t think there’s a problem in the public knowing that this is a difficult and complex question.”
Moderate Democrats have pushed for months for floor votes to show their commitment to supporting local police, after a scourge of GOP attack ads last cycle portrayed their party as anti-cop and soft on crime. Those attacks, according to the Democrat’s own campaign arm, were “alarmingly potent” in key swing districts, and many battleground members believe it cost the party seats in the last election — which narrowed their House majority as they expected to expand it.
This year’s looming election is far more centered on the nation’s economic woes than policing. But the House GOP campaign arm made clear it would not ignore the internal squabbling, with a spokesperson in a statement continuing to call Democrats “the party of defunding the police.”
Still, progressives and Black Democrats led others in their party in urging leadership not to dole out more cash for policing programs without any kind of new accountability standards. Progressives had circulated their own package of policing bills last week, but Jayapal said that the slate didn’t include local police funding bills from moderate Democratic Reps. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) and Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.). Meanwhile, members of the Congressional Black Caucus wanted more accountability measures like guardrails and benchmarks for the programs being funded.
“We can put guardrails, benchmarks, qualifiers that I can say back to the American people, this is now a great initiative or program,” said CBC Chair Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio), adding that Democrats can use the extra time to “get it right.”
Those groups are expected to use the extra time between now and August to try to negotiate those measures into the policing bills. Democrats plan to pass the policing package when members return next month to vote on a drug pricing and health care deal that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer aims to reach with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).
“If it was complete and we thought it could pass, I’d put it on the floor tomorrow,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters. “If it’s not, I’m going to put it on as soon as we can.”
Hoyer added that Democrats “may” come back before an Aug. 9 special election in Minnesota, which will further diminish their threadbare margins.
At a Wednesday press conference, Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.), who has vocally pushed his colleagues to vote on an assault weapons ban since a gunman shot multiple people at a Fourth of July parade in Highland Park, Ill., said he and gun violence prevention advocates were “disappointed” the vote would be delayed.
“We all share a disappointment that we won’t be voting on this bill on Friday,” he said alongside family members and survivors of mass shootings. “But, also, I believe I speak on behalf of everybody here that we also share the absolute resolve to make sure that we do vote on an assault weapons ban. Because that’s what the American people deserve.”
Despite the moderate angst to vote as quickly as possible on the policing bills, some of which they argued stood a chance of passing the 50-50 Senate, other Democrats stressed that this week was more of an arbitrary deadline.
“There’s nothing magic about Friday,” said Rules Chair Jim McGovern. | J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo
“There’s nothing magic about Friday,” said Rules Chair Jim McGovern (D-Mass.). “We just want to get all this right and make sure everybody is comfortable about how we’re proceeding.”
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