Vulnerable members of swing districts, known as front-liners, who remain most at risk of losing their seats in midterm elections, have spent the past few weeks pushing leaders to vote on legislation that would help to fund local law enforcement to counter GOP attacks that Democrats are soft on crime — an argument that likely cost the party seats in 2020 and created animosity between different party factions.
But the push to increase police funding has infuriated liberals who would rather see that money redirected to community policing, as well as black lawmakers and civil rights groups who want accountability and transparency measures attached to the police funding.
The recent spate of mass shootings across the country — particularly after 19 children and two teachers were killed at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas — has motivated many Democrats to reinvigorate the vote on a gun ban. assault for the first time in decades.
But there was uncertainty whether an assault weapons ban would have the votes in a chamber where Democrats have just a slim four-member majority. Leaders had hoped to enforce the ban on the installment of public safety bills, which included defunding police as well as community policing measures and mental health response teams, to ensure that it could be adopted this month. The members now hope to reconsider the package by mid-August when they return from a break.
The episode is just the latest headache for Democratic leaders as they try to appease different factions within their caucus that represent disparate groups of voters. It has remained a repeated struggle that has sometimes defined the caucus this term as members scramble to bridge differences at the last minute in an effort to salvage legislative priorities.
“It’s the nature of the business. I mean, you know, the important thing is to get things done,” Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said. “We are democrats. We would like to talk and, you know, go back and forth and keep talking. It’s who we are.
Votes were never scheduled for this week, but friction caused the House Rules Committee, which McGovern chairs, to back out of reviewing the legislation – the final step before the bills can be officially scheduled for a floor vote.
At issue is a bipartisan bill led by Reps. Tom Rice (RS.C.) and Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) that would double the current federal grant amount to more than $1 billion for an office in within the Ministry of Justice. which allocates the money to local police departments so they can have the resources to properly train officers and hire community policing professionals.
At a meeting Tuesday night, the executive council of the Congressional Progressive Caucus discussed its members’ broad opposition to any legislation that sends additional funds to police departments. Members of the liberal wing have already voted against bills that had funded law enforcement, a threat that remained ahead of any possible vote this week.
Their threat to sink the public safety package would hurt their chances of passing the assault weapons ban, which they support.
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus also met Tuesday night to discuss their support, telling leaders that any package that includes funds for police must have legislative language that holds law enforcement to account for cases of brutality. policewoman. There were concerns that the package would also skip the committee process, giving some members the impression that it was rushed with little regard for how it would be digested by black lawmakers.
Liberals and some black lawmakers and their constituents have strongly criticized additional funding for law enforcement without new policies governing policing practices in the wake of the killings in recent years of black Americans in high-profile cases involving allegations and convictions. for excessive force.
A proposal to overhaul police tactics passed by the House last year died in the Senate, which was a big disappointment for Democrats who wanted police reform to be a key achievement of this Congress.
A person familiar with the thinking of the Congressional Black Caucus said its members are taking an active role in finding a compromise, given that their caucus wants to help their frontline and liberal members.
“We just need a little more time to sort this all out. We’re going to get there,” said Rep. Steven Horsford (D-Nev.), who is leading a bill that would invest in initiatives to reduce community violence.
Members of the House leadership, CBC Speaker Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio), Rep. Josh Gottheimer (DN.J.) and Spanberger met Wednesday morning in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office (D-Calif.) to try to find a compromise in hopes of scheduling a floor vote this week. Instead, the meeting continued to iron out differences during the legislative recess.
“This conversation is about addressing the public safety concerns of the American people — and it will and must continue,” Spanberger said in a statement.
“These are things that I think are very important,” Gottheimer said. “I’m really optimistic that we are doing a good process.”
But the delay has angered front-liners who hoped to immediately begin campaigning on defunding police departments, even though some of the measures may not pass an evenly divided Senate.
“I’m disappointed,” Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-Pa.) said. “I wish they had happened.”
A majority of Democrats agree on several other bills that make up the legislative package, including the dissolution of a tort law protecting gunsmiths.
But the leadership’s decision to pull public safety bills until there is a compromise has made it difficult to vote on the assault weapons ban, as it counts on all but four Democrats. to support her.
Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), who recently lost his first candidacy to a liberal Democrat, has publicly said he would vote against the ban. Other frontline members representing rural districts have also expressed reluctance to support it.
“I have no comment at this time until I know a little more. A lot more,” said Rep. Tom O’Halleran (Arizona), considered one of the most threatened Democrats. of this cycle. “Some of them are very surprising.”
Majority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters Wednesday that the House is likely to return to session in the second week of August to pass an approved climate, health and tax package by the Senate and will probably consider public safety bills. The Democratic margin could then be reduced to three votes if the Republicans occupy a special electoral seat in Minnesota.
“If it was complete and we thought it could pass, I would ground it tomorrow or Friday,” Hoyer said. “But either way, it’s a priority for us.”
While many Democrats say it’s still likely the package will eventually pass the House, some members said the heartburn could have been avoided had they taken a breather rather than forcing the bills forward. a summer dash.
“I think if we did the proper verification process, which, you know, we haven’t done as well as we should, all of these things get resolved at the right time and not all peak. But again, I’m not surprised by anything this week,” Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) said.
Mike DeBonis contributed to this report.