Paul Kane, Washington Post, June 3, 2020
America: Let’s stand together.
Let’s do better. pic.twitter.com/wNt3ip2JFE
— Senate Republicans (@SenateGOP) June 4, 2020
Key Senate Republicans have openly embraced the need to rein in police brutality in a manner that was largely unthinkable five years ago, when the political imperative of supporting officers remained central to the GOP’s “law-and-order” ethos.
No, these Republicans are not denouncing President Trump’s actions, not even his declaration of being the “law-and-order” president before clearing out largely peaceful protesters so he could walk to a historic church near the White House.
Trump’s hold on conservative voters remains too strong for any real rebellion from Republicans on Capitol Hill.
But Floyd’s death has prompted Republicans to hold uncomfortable conversations and talk more openly, sometimes awkwardly, about a subject they had long avoided. Yet many GOP lawmakers remain unsure of what steps the federal government should take to break this systemic problem.
Consider Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a close Trump ally.
On Tuesday, Graham spoke to reporters about his discussions with black pastors in South Carolina who talked about how they teach younger African Americans to act if they get pulled over by the police.
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a lieutenant in the leadership team, has had similar conversations.
Sen. Todd C. Young (R-Ind.) went a step further and called the Minneapolis case murder, even as prosecutors have charged only one former officer with second-degree murder and charged three other former officers with aiding and abetting murder.
It remains to be seen whether these comments produce action or echo like the “thoughts and prayers” statements that many conservatives issue after mass shootings, without any substantive legislation passing to prevent gun violence.
And, to be sure, some Republicans continue to embrace a get-tough approach to any disturbances on city streets, applauding Trump’s tone Monday.
Those Republicans who want to do something — actual legislation to take on police brutality — are struggling with what to support.
“We had some, some discussions. We have some members who have some ideas. So we’re, you know, hearing them, hearing those out,” Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the majority whip, told reporters Wednesday.
Thune cited the December 2018 law that revamped the criminal justice system, eliminating some mandatory sentencing guidelines, for how it won support from conservatives and liberals.
Graham is holding a June 16 hearing on police issues, but he has no idea if legislation can emerge that would win enough Republican support and secure Trump’s signature.
Four Senate Republicans renewed their call to push legislation that requires states to keep track of data related to police shootings, including the race of the person shot. Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), the chamber’s only black Republican, first introduced the bill in 2015 after an unarmed black man was shot in the back and killed by police in South Carolina.
Blunt said he would encourage Attorney General William P. Barr to reinstate the Justice Department’s “pattern and practice” program to thoroughly investigate an entire police force’s historic behavior, rather that just probing an individual officer or officers after one incident of alleged brutality.