June 23, 2020

Wyden Delivers Floor Speech on Senate Republican Police Reform Bill

As Prepared for Delivery

Madam President, across the country, there has been a national outcry for justice – for real changes in law to address police brutality and reflect the undeniable truth that Black lives matter. This week should be our opportunity in the United States Senate to come together – Republicans and Democrats – to begin to fix our broken policing system. That’s what so many people in big cities and small towns in Oregon and every state across America are demanding of us. But instead of allowing that kind of bipartisan debate, Leader McConnell is plowing ahead with the partisan business as usual on a bill that falls short of what the Senate ought to accomplish.

Let me say right at the outset that I have enormous respect for my friend Senator Scott. He’s a great member of the Finance Committee, and he knows I appreciate every opportunity to work with him on big issues.

But the Majority Leader is giving short shrift to this debate by putting forward an inadequate bill and essentially daring the other side to oppose it. That’s not how you bring the sides together to address big, national challenges.

Let me discuss a few specific shortcomings of the legislation he’s attempting to bring to the floor. For example, how can 100 senators not agree that chokeholds are wrong and ought to be banned? That’s what my Democratic colleagues and I have called for – a nationwide ban on chokeholds, period. The Republican bill does not take that same firm position. And in my view, you can’t equivocate when it comes to a reform as basic as banning chokeholds. Anything short of a ban creates loopholes for the use of chokeholds, and that’s the wrong way to go.

Second, this bill does not create any real accountability for police misconduct. It does not end qualified immunity, it doesn’t set up independent investigations or prosecutions of police abuses, it doesn’t create national standards for law enforcement. Those issues are all right at the center of this challenge of reforming policing in America, and they’re issues the American people want us to address head-on.

A lot of what the Majority’s bill does with respect to police conduct is collect data, but nobody is protesting for data collection. People are protesting to save lives. The Senate ought to do better and make real changes that improve public safety.

Third – the extreme militarization of our police forces. It’s an issue that goes back more than a few years, but the danger of this military mindset in domestic law enforcement was never more clear than when Trump officials started talking about “dominating the battlespace” while sending heavily armored forces out to meet peaceful protests. 

Our communities are not war zones. Our citizens are not enemy combatants. And our police officers should not be occupying forces. So why has the U.S. undergone this years-long military mobilization on its own streets against its own people? It is long past time for this to end and for all our communities to institute 21st century community policing policies. But the Republican bill doesn’t do that.

The truth is, Senator Scott’s bill does take a few good steps, like establishing the duty to intervene and making lynching a federal crime. Those are issues that I and other Democrats would like to work on with Senator Scott in a comprehensive bill. But that’s not what Leader McConnell has put on offer this week.

My concern is, if the Senate votes to take up this bill, it’ll be business as usual under the Republican leader. A short debate cut off arbitrarily, not enough votes and not enough improvements to the bill. Business as usual isn’t good enough. Millions and millions of Americans are demanding more of us.

That video of the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police stirred a part of our national consciousness. There have been peaceful protests in all 50 states over the last few weeks calling for us to begin to stamp out racial injustice. People of all ethnicities, of all ages, all genders. It’s been a rare display of common purpose and engagement in America. As senators, we have an obligation to respond to that call with something better than business as usual.

I know that Senator Scott wants to get there. I know that my Democratic colleagues and I want to get there. I’m proud to support Senator Booker and Senator Harris, who have been doing tremendous work on this issue. And I know that regardless of the outcome of this vote, we’re going to keep working.

But as for this week, the Senate cannot rush this process and simply check the box with a partisan process before shrugging its shoulders and moving on to more far-right judges.

So I’m going to vote against cloture, and I urge my colleagues to do the same.