WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives passed bipartisan legislation Thursday to increase funding for local police departments, after Democrats overcame bitter divisions in their ranks over a package aimed at blunting Republican efforts to portray them as soft on the law. crime before the midterm elections.
A broad bipartisan majority voted, 360 to 64, for the centerpiece of the four-bill package, called the Investment to Protect Act, which would give $60,000,000 a year for five years to local police departments. The funds could be used to purchase body cameras and conduct de-escalation training, as well as other activities.
But a backlash from progressives, who refused to send money to police departments without stronger accountability measures to address excessive use of force or other misconduct, nearly brought down the bills before they could. be considered.
The fate of the legislation is unclear, particularly given its bumpy road to House approval on Thursday. The Senate last month passed a different version of the Investment to Protect Act, and aides said that chamber leaders had yet to discuss a path to get it to President Biden’s desk.
Democrats in tough re-election races in conservative-leaning districts have clamored for months for action on the measures, in part to respond to a central line of attack Republicans have used against them during the midterm campaign. mandate: that his party is soft on crime and hell-bent on defunding the police.
“Across the country, this will send a very clear signal that Democrats support law enforcement,” said Rep. Josh Gottheimer, a Democrat from New Jersey and a sponsor of the Invest to Protect Act.
Still, his path to passage exposed lingering divisions among Democrats on the issue of surveillance at a time when the political map looks more favorable for them than it did just a few months ago. After progressives threatened for weeks to block the legislation from reaching the House floor, Democratic leaders believed they had finally reached a deal to move forward.
But the deal appeared to unravel before his eyes just as the House of Representatives moved on to the bill Thursday morning, leading to a two-hour delay when a small group of liberal lawmakers said it would not provide, after all. your votes.
“It’s a question of money with no check and no check,” said Rep. Cori Bush, a Democrat from Missouri, who opposed the legislation. “Is this money to train? Well, we haven’t seen this training. After all the protests, after George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, 2021 saw the most police killings since police killings were recorded.”
The mini-riot in the House, where Democrats have a narrow margin of control, sparked a fight by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her lieutenants, who quickly went to work trying to convince would-be defectors.
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Ultimately, Democrats were able to convince Rep. Ayanna S. Pressley, D-Massachusetts, to vote “in” to secure the votes needed to introduce the legislation, allowing her to move forward without registering her support. That allowed a procedural measure to pave the way for the legislation to pass on a 216-215 vote.
Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Democrat from Minnesota and a progressive who pushed for changes to the bill, said the process was so tense it felt like “we’re in labor, making the final push.”
He added: “I think it should be seen as a victory for the Democrats to be able to get this to the finish line.”
Gottheimer dismissed the drama as “inside baseball” that audiences would ignore. But it was the latest chapter in a long-running dispute between Democrats over how to talk about and address enforcement issues.
Although 153 Republicans supported the centerpiece of the Investment to Protect Act (nine Democrats broke ranks to oppose it), most Republicans opposed the other three bills. One would create a grant program for state and local governments to train and dispatch mental health professionals, rather than law enforcement officers, to respond to emergencies involving people with behavioral health needs. Only three Republicans joined the 220 Democrats in support of that bill.
The package of bills would also provide federal grants for communities practicing violence intervention and prevention. It would offer assistance to law enforcement specifically to address gun crime and support shooting victims.
Democrats originally expected to vote on the police funding bills over the summer and planned to combine them with legislation to ban assault weapons that passed in July, before lawmakers left Washington for their August recess. But when disagreements arose over accountability measures in police bills, Pelosi opted to go ahead with the assault weapons ban alone and review enforcement legislation in the fall.
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In recent weeks, frustration had been building among moderates as the legislation languished without a vote, especially as midterm elections approached.
In intensive talks this week between Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a Democrat from Washington and chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Ms. Omar and Mr. Gottheimer, liberal members pushed for changes. The bill had originally targeted police departments with 200 officers or fewer. Ms. Jayapal and Ms. Omar pushed for the money to be available only to departments with 125 or fewer officers.
The two lawmakers also insisted on more accountability measures, such as allowing the funds to be used to collect data on use of force and de-escalation training. Many local governments cite resource limitations in being able to report such statistics, and only 27 percent of police departments currently submit such data to the FBI.
Progressives also insisted on removing from the package legislation that would expand police departments, co-sponsored by Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Virginia, who has been a leading advocate for action on law enforcement funding measures.
Although the changes were made, they failed to place some civil rights groups, who said they continued to oppose the legislation. Suggestions from earlier this year to address qualified immunity, which provides legal protection to officers accused of violating the constitutional rights of others, for example, were rejected.
“Congress must promote an affirmative agenda for security that makes evidence-based, preventive investments in people and communities,” said Thea Sebastian, policy director for the Civil Rights Corps, a nonprofit organization focused on injustice in the world. legal system. package, in our opinion, does not represent this agenda”.
Democrats have long known that the crime problem remains a political vulnerability for members representing moderate districts.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee shared guidance in March with members and candidates on how to respond to Republican attacks that they are soft on crime.
“All Democratic candidates in competitive elections must proactively develop plans to counter this attack,” the memo, shared by a DCCC official, said. “Republicans will seek to bind all Democrats to ‘defund’ regardless of that Democrat’s background or biography. They’re doing this because unfortunately these attacks can work even when they’re obviously fake.”
The group noted, “Multiple responses were tried, and the most effective included a clear statement opposing defunding the police, as well as a statement stating what Democrats support when it comes to crime and policing.”
On Thursday, House Republicans accused Democrats of simply introducing the bills as a political exercise.
“It’s not to solve a problem,” said Rep. Michelle Fischbach, R-Minnesota. “It’s so my fellow Democrats can look like they’re solving problems.” She called it a “last-minute effort for them” that “came just in time to see the results of the electoral polls.”
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, summed up the GOP opposition in remarks on the floor.
“It’s an election year ploy for Democrats to try to look like they care about funding law enforcement,” he said.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a Democrat from Texas, responded with anger.
“If you could ever be fed up, I am fed up,” he said. Addressing his fellow Republicans, he said, “Where were you on January 6, when law enforcement was bleeding to death on the steps of the United States Capitol?”