The vote on Democrats' bill comes one day after the Senate failed to advance a narrower GOP proposal.
The House passed a sweeping police overhaul bill Thursday, one month after the killing of a Black man by a Minneapolis police officer sparked a nationwide movement for systemic reforms of the criminal justice system.
Every Democrat voted for the package, which was drafted by the Congressional Black Caucus in a matter of days amid multiracial demonstrations in dozens of cities seeking justice for George Floyd’s death. Ultimately just three Republicans — moderate Reps. Will Hurd (R-Texas), Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) — backed the measure.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi took the rare step of casting her vote and announcing the 236-181 tally.
The bill would crack down on excessive police force and ban chokeholds, enforce national transparency standards and push accountability for officer misconduct with a national database to track offenses.
“To the protesters: we hear you, we see you, we are you,” House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said in an impassioned speech on the floor just before the vote.
Jeffries, one of the most senior Black members in Congress, said he first learned of Floyd’s death from his young son, who told him, “‘Dad, it’s happened again. What are you going to do about it?’”
“I say to him, and I say to all those other Black children throughout America: We are here today as House Democrats to do something about it,” Jeffries said.
The three Republicans who ultimately supported the bill defied direct instructions from the White House to oppose it, handing a minor victory to Democrats, who can now say they passed a bipartisan police reform bill. Still, Democrats’ success likely ends there as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has signaled he will not take up the package, leaving virtually no hope it will become law.
“Exactly one month ago George Floyd spoke his final words, 'I can’t breathe,' and changed the course of history,” Pelosi said on the steps of the Capitol before the vote. “When we pass this bill, the Senate will have a choice: to honor George Floyd’s life or to do nothing.”
Thursday’s vote comes one day after the Senate failed to advance a narrower policing bill — leaving the two chambers at a stalemate even as the nation faces a reckoning on race and police brutality.
Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, the Senate’s only Black Republican, was the lead author of the Senate’s police reform bill. But many Democrats dismissed the legislation, calling it a “sham” that only paid lip service to the systematic changes they say need to take place.
“The Senate bill is [a] sham, fake reform,” said House Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) alongside Pelosi. “It gestures, using some of the same words, but it does nothing real.”
Other Democrats, like Rep. Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri, a former CBC chairman, were slightly gentler in their criticism.
“I have a lot of respect and admiration for Tim Scott … and so I believe that he tried to get as good a bill as he thought he could get with the Republican-led Senate,” Cleaver said in an interview.
“I think he did the best that he could with the Republican legislature,” he added. “I just don’t think many people in the Senate quite understand the magnitude of this time.”
But Democrats, particularly senior members of the CBC, say the passage of their bill is a monumental step forward for a Congress that has allowed legislation to ban chokeholds or demilitarize the police to languish for years. In one sign of the enormity of the moment, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) — who represents Minneapolis, including the block where Floyd died after a police officer put his knee on Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes — presided over the House floor earlier in the day.
“Thank God for the activists. Thank God for the screaming from the streets that has awoken a lot of people to how the severe disregard for life and racism has been playing out every day in America,” Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.) said in an interview. “We need transformational change.”
The House bill has won endorsements from a slew of prominent advocacy groups, from the NAACP to the AFL-CIO to the American College of Physicians. A long list of entertainment industry celebrities have signaled support as well, from Lizzo to Justin Bieber to Ariana Grande. On Thursday, the measure also earned backing from another set of powerful voices: the parents of African Americans killed by police.
“The unjust killing of a loved one, especially at the hands of law enforcement, is a pain too many families have been forced to endure," said Gwen Carr, John Crawford Jr. and Samaria Rice — the parents of Eric Garner, John Crawford III and Tamir Rice, respectively.
Backers of the bill noted that Rice would have turned 18 on Thursday. "We are proud to support this effort because it’s the right thing to do."
Some Democrats and Republicans had initially hoped to send legislation to President Donald Trump’s desk before the July Fourth holiday — a scenario that is now unlikely.
Democrats have refused to scale back the central components of their bill, such as banning chokeholds or abolishing the “qualified immunity” doctrine that protects police officers from lawsuits. Republicans, meanwhile, have said they will simply move on to the rest of their summer agenda until Democrats signal a willingness to back down on some of those elements.
Several Democrats had been quietly working with moderate Republicans like Hurd, Upton and Fitzpatrick in the last few weeks in a behind-the-scenes effort to garner their support for the bill.
Still, most Republicans voted against the policing bill with several citing one major issue as the primary reason for the stalemate: whether police should be held personally liable for misconduct on the job. Trump also publicly urged GOP lawmakers to oppose the bill, and few in the party are eager to cross him.
Within the Democratic Caucus, the package ran into remarkably little resistance, which has historically faced some internal divisions between its moderate and progressive factions. Some
Democrats in swing districts had initially been hesitant to support the bill for fear of blowback from powerful police unions, but all supported the bill in the end.
“The people in the streets are saying, ‘We are not going to go away, this issue is not going to fade,’” Rep. Greg Meeks (D-N.Y.) said in an interview.
“I think our moment is going to continue, like I said,” he added. “If the Senate refuses to negotiate, that will reverberate against them, I believe, in the November elections.”
Kyle Cheney contributed to this report.