Lankford Blasts Senate Democrats’ Block of JUSTICE Act on Senate Floor
CLICK HERE to watch Lankford’s remarks on the Senate floor.
WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today blasted Senate Democrats when not even four Democrats voted in favor earlier today of proceeding to open debate on the JUSTICE Act, which Lankford helped introduce. Lankford cited that Senate Democrats unreasonably—and for political reasons—demanded Speaker Pelosi’s bill, the Justice in Policing Act of 2020, or nothing at all when so many families in our nation are hurting and want action on police reform and retraining. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had already allotted two full legislative weeks to debating and considering the bill because numerous amendments were expected from both sides of the aisle. Lankford called on his colleagues to pass the bill last week on the Senate floor.
We just finished up a vote on the Senate floor where we fell four votes short of opening debate on a bill to deal with police reform—four votes short. We were four votes short of opening debate to discuss it. Every single Republican voted for this, and a handful of Democrats, but the vast majority of Democrats actually said, ‘No, we don’t want to debate this bill. We will only debate the Pelosi bill when it comes out of the House.’ Well, that’s absurd. That didn’t happen, I can assure you, when speaker Boehner was the leader of the House, that the Senate said, ‘I tell you what, we’re going to wait and see whatever speaker Boehner sends over to Harry Reid,’ and Harry Reid would say, ‘Oh, yes, please, we’ll take up whatever the Boehner bill is.’ That was never done, and they know that.
It’s such an odd peculiar season in our country politically and a painful season in our country culturally and practically. Our hope was to be able to have a real debate on a real bill. I was part of the team in writing this bill. This bill was a genuine push to be able to reform how we do police work and to increase accountability and transparency across the country. The bill that we just needed four Democrats to join—just four Democrats to join to be able to open up for debate—would have banned chokeholds across the country. It would have required the reporting of all serious bodily injury or death in police custody from everywhere in the country to start tracking all of this. It would have gathered information on no-knock warrants all around the country, to start tracking this information, to see if they are being abused. It would have put more body cameras on the streets.
This bill that we just needed four Democrats to join us on—just four—would have put $150 million more in body-worn cameras all over the street, and it wouldn’t have just put those body cameras on the street. It would have also put new requirements to be able to make sure they stay on, which has been an issue. This bill that we just needed four Democrats to join us just so we could debate it, discuss it, and amend it would have had a whole new system tracking complaints, discipline actions, would have pulled together records for law enforcement officers to make sure that they would have had those records, their commendations, and their discipline travel to the next department with them. So before an officer leaves one department and goes to the next, all the records are made available to the next department, so that we don’t have a bad apple moving department to department.
This bill that we just needed four Democrats to be able to join on with us—any four—just so we could open it up and debate it and amend it, would have changed a system on a duty to intervene, putting new obligations, new training, new requirements on an officer that’s watching another officer do something they know is wrong to be able to intervene in that process and to be able to stop it. The national commission, to be able to pull folks together to get the best ideas from around the country, to be able to gather best practices that have happened. There is also a new piece that’s in this—it’s not in the Pelosi bill; it’s only in this bill—that deals with giving a false report if you’re a police officer, because at times we’ll have a police officer, there is serious bodily injury or death, and their written record doesn’t match the reality of what really happened. And it’s not just that they ‘misremembered.’ They intentionally turned in a false report. This bill that we wanted to just debate today would have allowed us to be able to add additional penalties on that, to be able to make sure someone receives the due penalty if they are trying to lie on forms.
This bill would have dealt with mental health. This bill would have dealt with de-escalation training. This bill was designed to be able to help get additional training. This bill has a section on it using the Museum of African American history to design a curriculum that we could put out to every department around the country on the history of race and law enforcement. It’s modeled after what was done with the Holocaust Museum to deal with anti-Semitism. That’s what this bill was designed to do.
And we just needed four Democrats to join us. But instead, they dug in, did press releases, and said, ‘That bill is terrible. It’s awful. It has no teeth in it. That bill is unsalvageable.’ I would ask any American listening to me and anyone in this room, are there one of those ideas you don’t like?
Then the conversation was, ‘Well, we’re not going to have an open-enough process.’ So Senator Scott, who is our point negotiator in this, sat down with Democratic leadership and said, ‘How about 20 amendments—20 amendments on this bill. So if you want to bring something up to be able to amend it, change it, great.’ They said, ’No,’ because their desire is only Speaker Pelosi’s bill or nothing. I think that’s exceptionally sad because we have been through this journey so many times where we’ll see a black man be killed, and we’ll all watch the footage. And the whole country rises up, and Congress starts debating, and then it stops. And it stops because of silly stuff like this, where people dig in and say, ‘If you don’t do it entirely our way, then we’re not going to do it at all,’ because it’s not about solving the problem, it’s just about prolonging a problem and so you can make it a political issue when families out there want this solved.
All of those things I listed are all out there. Now, there are two things that I have heard to say, ‘Well, we’re not going to take up your bill, we’re not going to debate it, we’re not going to discuss it, we’re going to even block it from coming to the floor,’ which is what happened today. The two issues that I have heard are: you know what? I really want us to go to committee. I want a committee to look at this, take some time, go through this. That’s a fascinating argument. And I wish it was true, because two weeks ago, the discussion was, ‘We need to get on this as quickly as possible,’ until we actually put out a legitimate bill, and then my Democratic colleagues said well, ‘There is a problem with how you’re putting it out. We’re going to debate it on the floor. I’d rather debate it in committee, and then have the floor just bring it but not debate it on the floor. I don’t want to debate it out here. Let’s debate it over there.’ No one’s buying that argument. No one’s buying that. If you can put 20 amendments on this, that’s what would happen in the committee. Let’s bring it, let’s talk about it. Everyone sees what that is; shuffling bills off to committee is about delaying and stalling, and let’s delay this out because they know, ‘Okay, we won’t get it this week.’
They will delay it out, and then it’s after the 4th of July, and when you come back from the 4th of July, we have the coronavirus bills. They know. We have the appropriations bills that they know. And so it’s like, ‘Okay, it won’t happen there.’ Then there is the August gap. Then it will move to September. What they are trying to do is try to get it closer and closer to the election and then make it a big election issue about it and say, ‘Those crazy Republicans won’t resolve this,’ get it close to the election and make it an election issue. Hello. Why don’t we just solve this instead of dragging the country through something we all know key ways to be able to solve?
So our two issues that we know of, one is a purely political issue, stall, delay, try to get us closer to the election and then divide the country. The second one deals with an issue on whether police officers should not only face criminal liability, they should face civil liability as well. And you hear this get kicked around all the time in all kinds of different terms. Speaker Pelosi’s bill says not only put that police officer in prison, which they deserve, they murder someone, commit a crime, a police officer is as liable under the law. And if they’re not, they should be, and we fix that. Speaker Pelosi’s bill says not only put them in prison, but also civilly take away their home and their car and their pension away from their family, make sure we leave them destitute and their family destitute as well as putting them in prison. That’s what their bill is all about. And it’s the reason so many police officers are so frustrated and furious with the bill they adamantly want to put on the floor because they’re saying if they did something wrong, they should face the consequences for it. But don’t punish their family.
Speaker Pelosi’s bill says, ‘No, the police officer should be in prison, and their families should have their home taken away from them and their police pension taken away from them and everything else.’ You know what we’ve talked about? We’ve talked about a police officer facing criminal penalties, as they do now and as they should. And then if there is a civil case, why don’t we bring it against the department that didn’t train their officer, that didn’t supervise that officer? Instead of attacking an officer’s family, why don’t we hold people to account to actually supervise people better, and push the city and the department to do the right thing, to train, equip people? And if someone has a problem, don’t leave them out there on the street with 18 discipline records. Take them off the street, because if you don’t, the whole city is going to be held to account for it. That’s trying to end this. That’s trying to push towards more supervision, not just trying to be punitive.
Those are the two differences that I can pick up: political and civil. Otherwise, a lot of what I mentioned that’s in our bill is in their bill as well. So Tim Scott made a very simple statement: why don’t we put this on the floor, why don’t we actually debate the differences that we have, why don’t we have a vote, and then why don’t we finish this? Leader McConnell dedicated this week and next week to this bill on police reform to give two weeks to do all kinds of amendments, all kinds of debate, but instead the conversation was, ‘No, don’t want to do that. It’s Speaker Pelosi’s bill or nothing.’ Or ‘Let’s just slow the whole thing down, send it to committee, and delay, delay, delay, delay this thing.’
Why don’t we deal with this right now? There are two weeks set aside to do it. There‘s plenty of time for amendments. Why do that instead of just blocking the bill? I just don’t know a lot of folks that say to me, ‘I really don’t want there to be more body cameras on the street. I don’t want more oversight on law enforcement when they turn in a false report or when they turn off their body camera.’ I don’t run into a lot of people that say, ‘I want to just go ahead and leave the system the way it is, that we really don’t know what’s happening in a police department when there is bodily injury and harm.’ I meet a lot of people who say, ‘Those things make sense to me, why don’t we do it?’ Which unfortunately is my same question today standing on the floor of the Senate. Why don’t we do it?