The top House Republican endorsed key elements of Democrats’ police reform package and suggested there could be room for a bipartisan compromise, even as the House GOP is pressing ahead with its own bill.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) said Thursday the GOP “conceptually” agrees with aspects of the sweeping police reform bill unveiled by the Congressional Black Caucus earlier this week, but he took issue with Democrats for crafting the legislation without the GOP’s input.
McCarthy also said he supports the Democrats’ proposed ban on police chokeholds — going further than President Donald Trump and the Senate GOP — while declining to name specific provisions he opposes. McCarthy later added that he would be willing to consider renaming military bases named after Confederate leaders.
“There very well could be” a bipartisan agreement on police reform, McCarthy told reporters during his weekly news conference. “I think there’s a place where we can work together. … There’s a lot of concepts that we agree upon.”
McCarthy’s openness to ideas once considered nonstarters by many Republicans illustrates just how rapidly the politics have shifted on racial justice since the police killing of George Floyd two weeks ago.
And it signals that Democrats and Republicans may be able to reach a deal on policing reform and overcome the deeply partisan sticking points that usually stifle any meaningful debate in Congress before it begins. McCarthy said he has been in contact with CBC Chairwoman Karen Bass (D-Calif.), with whom he said he has a “very good relationship,” and plans to continue those discussions.
Still, McCarthy’s expression of bipartisan bonhomie didn’t stop the GOP leader from taking a swipe at Speaker Nancy Pelosi at the start of his news conference, accusing her of “politicizing” the police reform effort by locking Republicans out of the process early on. And while Republicans are under immense pressure to address police brutality and racial inequalities, they are also hoping to position themselves as allies of law enforcement ahead of the November election.
Pelosi and other Democrats maintain Republicans will have plenty of chances to offer amendments to the bill next week when the House Judiciary Committee takes it up. But privately Democrats and Republicans alike are skeptical that the committee will actually adopt many, if any, GOP changes — especially if they are perceived as watering down the final product.
Pelosi said Thursday she is determined to see Democrats’ bill enacted into law, telling reporters about a conversation she had with Floyd’s brother, Philonise Floyd, shortly before his emotional congressional testimony on Wednesday.
“When I chatted with the family before the hearing, George’s brother said to me, ‘I have a question, is this going to happen?'” Pelosi told reporters at her weekly news conference.
“It’s a question that many of you have. But coming from him, it had power. And I had an answer: ‘yes’,” she added. “We will not rest until it becomes the law. We will not rest until the changes are made.”
Democrats plan to bring the bill to the House floor on June 25 and have been working behind the scenes to recruit support from certain House Republicans, particularly retiring moderate Rep. Will Hurd of Texas. Hurd, the only black Republican in the House, has been open to some of Democrats’ ideas but hasn’t yet endorsed their bill.
Senate Republicans, meanwhile, are also crafting a proposal to curb police misconduct. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tapped Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina — the Senate’s lone black Republican — to spearhead the effort, which is expected to be narrower than the Democrats’ package.
The House GOP’s bill, according to McCarthy, will focus on three main areas: better police training, holding bad officers accountable and making more data about law enforcement publicly available.
While there is a desire among Senate and House Republicans to each put their own stamp on the debate, there has also been some effort to coordinate the party’s response. McCarthy said Scott will meet Thursday with Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who is taking the reins on the House GOP’s side and could unveil something next week. And Scott also met with top advisers to the White House, which is considering taking executive action on the issue.
“We agree on a lot of things,” Scott said of his meeting with Jordan. “Moving in the right direction.”
Republicans and Democrats also have a chance to come together on renaming military bases named after Confederate leaders. The move would be a rare break between congressional Republicans and Trump, who said this week he “will not even consider” renaming the bases.
McCarthy said it might be “appropriate” to rename some bases and other military assets, but added that he would wait to see how the issue is addressed in the annual defense policy bill.
Across the Capitol, a GOP-controlled Senate committee approved legislation Thursday that would give the Pentagon three years to rename bases and other military assets. House Democrats could include a similar provision when they take up their version of the national defense authorization next month.
It’s likely to be more difficult for lawmakers to find common ground on the removal of the Confederate statues that dot the Capitol. Pelosi sent a letter to the Joint Committee on the Library on Wednesday requesting the removal of nearly a dozen statues memorializing Confederate leaders.
Cities across the country have taken similar action, with either officials or in some cases protesters pulling down statues and other monuments to the Confederacy.
But many Republicans, including the committee’s chairman, Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), have said it’s up to the states — not lawmakers — to voluntarily recall the statues they sent to the Capitol.
“You would have to change the law to take those statues out of the building,” Blunt said Thursday. “But you could certainly do that if that’s what the Congress wants to do and the president wants to sign.”
McCarthy echoed a similar sentiment, saying the power to remove the statues resides with the states — not Pelosi.
When pressed on the issue Thursday, Pelosi said she is limited in her authority as speaker. She cannot remove certain statues from the Capitol but can have them relocated to a less-trafficked area, as she did with the statue of Robert E. Lee during her first tenure as speaker.
“When I was speaker, I did what I had the authority to do — which was to relegate Robert E. Lee to the crypt. I could move things around, I couldn’t actually take them out,” Pelosi said. “That requires something else, and that’s why I wrote the letter.”
There are currently 11 Confederate statues in the Capitol, including monuments to Jefferson Davis and Alexander Stephens, the president and vice president of the Confederacy, respectively, in Statuary Hall, which sits just off the House chamber.
“Jefferson Davis, Alexander Stephens — treason, they committed treason against the United States, and they’re still here because their states put them here,” Pelosi said.
“Believe me, if I had more authority we would have fewer of those statues around.”
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