Road ahead: Dueling policing bills and DC statehood to get votes

Also, the House Judiciary invites Geoffrey Berman, ousted U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York

Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., arrives for a pen and pad briefing in the Senate Press Gallery where reporters practiced social distancing on June 18, 2020. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., arrives for a pen and pad briefing in the Senate Press Gallery where reporters practiced social distancing on June 18, 2020. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Posted June 22, 2020 at 5:38pm

The House and Senate will take up competing partisan policing overhaul bills this week, but there are no signs of a bipartisan deal coming together that could get to President Donald Trump’s desk.

The Democratic House measure is more expansive than the Republican Senate offering, but both seek to increase reporting of use-of-force incidents, improve training protocols to emphasize de-escalation, and incentivize states to ban chokeholds and use body cameras.

[Key differences exist among House, Senate and White House policing plans]

The House will vote on its policing bill when it returns to session Thursday. It is expected to pass because a majority of members have already signaled their support, with 230 Democrats co-sponsoring the measure.

It’s unclear how the three Democrats who have not signed on as co-sponsors of the bill will vote. The three are Reps. Anthony Brindisi of New York, Jared Golden of Maine and Ben McAdams of Utah.

Few, if any, House Republicans are expected to support the bill. None did during the Judiciary Committee markup last week.

Provisions in the House bill that are not in the Senate measure include a ban on racial profiling; a national standard that use of force should be used as a last resort; a relaxation of the qualified immunity doctrine that shields police from lawsuits for actions performed on the job; a ban on no-knock warrants in federal drug cases; and grants for jurisdictions to use independent counsels to investigate and prosecute police misconduct.

The Senate starts its week considering the nomination of Cory T. Wilson of Mississippi for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, before turning to its policing bill on Wednesday.

The Senate bill includes some provisions not in the House measure, like ones instituting a 20-year maximum sentence for officers caught falsifying police reports and creating a national commission to conduct a comprehensive review of the criminal justice system.

Both measures would withhold grant money for jurisdictions that don’t ban chokeholds, but the House measure goes further and makes use of the tactic a civil rights violation. Both bills use grant money to incentivize state and local jurisdictions to use body cameras, but only the House bill requires federal law enforcement to use them. And both measures require jurisdictions receiving federal grant money to report use-of-force data to the federal government, with the Democrats’ legislation requiring the Justice Department to set up a centralized database and the GOP measure relying on an existing FBI database.

Senate Democrats, who’ve panned the GOP bill as inadequate, have not yet said whether they will vote to cut off debate on the motion to proceed, the first procedural step needed to allow the chamber to even begin debate on the bill.

“If we pass a bill that’s ineffective and the killings continue and police departments resist change and there’s no accountability, the wound in our society will not close,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer said in floor remarks Monday.

The New York Democrat criticized the GOP bill as “piecemeal and halfhearted” and “deeply and fundamentally flawed” but did not say whether his conference would oppose beginning debate on it.

Alabama Democrat Doug Jones, who leads CQ Roll Call’s most recent list of most vulnerable senators, said on MSNBC on Sunday that he is inclined to vote for the motion to proceed despite not being a fan of the GOP bill so that the chamber can have an open discussion.

“That doesn’t mean I’ll necessarily vote for the final passage on that bill,” said Jones, a former U.S. attorney. “I’d like to see it changed. I’d like to see it strengthened because I think the American people want something to happen; they want something good, something bold, something dramatic.”

D.C. statehood vote

Another big item on the House agenda for the week is a bill to make the District of Columbia the 51st state. Under the measure, just a two-square-mile enclave encompassing the White House, Capitol Hill, the Supreme Court and other federal buildings would remain under federal control.

The bill, up for a vote on Friday, is expected to pass since it has 225 co-sponsors, all Democrats. This would be the first time a statehood bill has passed either chamber of Congress, a significant step for the movement. But the Republican-led Senate is not expected to take up the measure.

The House on Friday will also attempt to override Trump’s veto of a joint resolution providing congressional disapproval of the Department of Education’s borrower defense rule.

The Trump administration updated the Obama-era rule — allowing students to have a portion of their loans forgiven if they were defrauded by their college or university — to block students defrauded by for-profit schools prior to mid-2017 from relief and sets new standards for debt forgiveness for loans disbursed after July 1.

In January, the House passed the disapproval resolution 231-180, short of the two-thirds support needed to override Trump’s veto.

The House is planning to begin debate Friday on two other measures, a joint resolution providing congressional disapproval for Community Reinvestment Act regulations issued by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and a bill to make it easier for consumers to access their credit information and resolve disputes.

DOJ drama

The House Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing Wednesday on politicization of the DOJ under Attorney General William Barr that is expected to receive even more attention after the weekend firing of Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.

Current DOJ officials Aaron Zelinsky and John Elias are expected to testify under subpoena and former Deputy Attorney General Donald Ayer is scheduled to testify voluntarily.

“Mr. Zelinsky can speak to the Department’s handling of the sentencing of Roger Stone and Mr. Elias can speak to improperly motivated activity by the Antitrust Division,” Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler said in a statement. He added that Ayer “will describe what is at stake when there is a breakdown of the Department’s independence at the hands of its own leadership.”

After Berman’s firing, Nadler invited him to testify at the hearing as well. Berman was chosen to lead the Southern District office by the district’s judges after Trump fired the previous head.

“I don’t know about Wednesday, but I’m sure he will testify,” Nadler said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Nadler noted the Southern District has been conducting several investigations into Trump and his associates, including his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.

“We have seen a pattern of the president opposing, of Barr corruptly impeding all these investigations. So this is just more of the same,” he said of Berman’s firing.

In the Senate, a potential showdown between Trump and Barr and New York’s senators over Berman’s replacement is brewing.

Trump has nominated Jay Clayton for the post. Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham said Saturday he would honor the so-called blue-slip process of approving nominees for some judicial appointments from home-state senators before proceeding to the nomination, and would “continue to do so,” in Clayton’s case.

“As the senator from New York, I will not return a blue slip on Mr. Clayton’s nomination,” Schumer said Monday. “But regardless, Jay Clayton should withdraw his name from consideration and refuse to be an accomplice to this scheme.”

Other hearings

Several House and Senate committees will take on coronavirus-related topics this week.

The House Energy and Commerce panel on Tuesday will finally get to hear from administration officials who have for months been barred from testifying because the White House said it wanted them working on the pandemic response. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield, FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn and Assistant Secretary for Health Brett Giroir are scheduled to testify.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will hear from witnesses Tuesday about the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act and China’s role in the coronavirus pandemic. Also Tuesday, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions panel holds a hearing on lessons learned to prepare for another pandemic.

The Senate appropriations process was expected to ramp up this week, but Appropriations Chairman Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala., decided to postpone markups until he and ranking member Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., work out an agreement on amendments. Democrats wanted to use spending bills to provide additional money for the federal government's coronavirus response and address social justice issues such as police brutality. Republicans do not.

House appropriators are holding a hearing Tuesday where they will field requests from their own colleagues, or a member day as it is referred to, as they plan to begin subcommittee markups next week.

The House Armed Services panel on Monday began subcommittee markups of the fiscal 2021 defense authorization bill and will finish them on Tuesday ahead of a full committee markup next week.

Chris Cioffi contributed to this report.