June 23, 2020

Harris on GOP Bill: “Attempt to Obstruct Real Progress and Real Justice”

Full Video of Harris’ Remarks 

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) on Tuesday slammed Senate Republicans on their empty proposal to address police brutality, calling it an “attempt to obstruct real progress and real justice.” Harris laid out the hollow proposals in the GOP bill and pressed her colleagues to proceed with real legislative change. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) interrupted Senator Harris during her remarks in an attempt to undermine her criticism of the GOP bill, which falls short of meaningful reform. Harris shut down every one of Cornyn’s questions, explaining the GOP’s failure to consider real, comprehensive legislation on police brutality— including the Justice in Policing Act.

Key Excerpts:

  • The people in the streets of every race, every gender, every age, from every state are not only giving us permission but demanding that their leaders finally make good on the American promise of equal justice under the law. And they are demanding this change. They're not just asking for it.
  • We can't answer the people's demand for accountability with watered-down politics and watered-down policies and an obstructionist tactic to distract us from what we clearly know is necessary to meet the calls and the cries of this moment and this movement. And so, I will say we cannot answer their demands with this Republican attempt to obstruct real progress and real justice in our country.
  • I intend to vote against a motion to proceed tomorrow. I also intend to vote for a motion to proceed with real reform. I'm not against the motion to proceed, we should proceed. Let's proceed with action not gestures, with action.
  • Where is the accountability and consequence, when a system fails the people it is designed to protect? Where is the accountability and consequence when people who have been invested by the people with a gun and a badge- it is the power we give them. Where is the accountability and consequence when they abuse that power? One must ask. And our bill is designed to address just that. And I will tell you there is not one component of the Republican bill that does the same.
  • On Monday, June 9, in response to protests in all 50 states of these United States, Senator Cory Booker and I, along with our CBC and House Judiciary colleagues, and a majority of our Senate caucus announced the Justice in Policing Act. Over one week later, and now, the people are marching in the streets, let's just remember this, people are marching in the streets every night, every day. Over one week later, somebody got the memo. And then what did they do? They came up with what they call the Justice Act as a way to essentially show that they've got something, but to basically obstruct what already had been put in place.
  • The proposal was carefully crafted that is being offered tomorrow for a vote. The Republican proposal was carefully crafted to deflect from real change by merely, as my colleague Senator Booker outlined, Senator Schumer outlined, by merely offering to study the problem without doing anything to solve it. That’s empty.
  • And so, you know, in the words of my, immortal words, my great uncle Sherman, God rest his soul, that dog don't hunt. Thank you.

Key Harris-Cornyn Exchange:

CORNYN: Madam President, is the senator certainly is familiar with the rules of the Senate, which allows senators to offer amendments to improve legislation once we get on it. But if the Democratic Conference is going to prevent the Senate from actually getting on the bill, there's no opportunity for anyone, any senator, you or any one of us to offer amendments to improve it. And I would further ask the senator, aren't you aware of the fact that there are 60 vote thresholds on the back end, so that if we get on the bill, and you don't like the way it turns out, you can block it on the back end, but is the Senator aware of those options that she has.

HARRIS: Well, Senator Cornyn, you and I both serve, and we are honored to serve on the Senate Judiciary Committee, as does Senator Booker, Senator Durbin. We all serve on the Judiciary Committee, the two Senate authors of this bill serve with you on the Senate Judiciary Committee, as you know, because we've been present together during our most recent hearings. We have asked that there would be a meaningful discussion of the Justice in Policing Act in that committee, none has occurred. So, if we're going to talk about process, let us look at all the tools that are available to well-intentioned well-meaning legislators if the goal is actually to solve and address the issue at hand. I've seen no evidence of that. I've seen no evidence of, in fact, what I've seen reading some of the newspapers, sometimes they get things wrong, but if they got it right, the Senate leader said that he has no interest in engaging in that kind of discussion or debate before putting the bill on the floor for a vote tomorrow.

CORNYN: Madam President, may I ask one last question to the Senator? What I'm trying to fathom, Madam President is why the Senator would rather have these negotiations occur behind closed doors, as opposed to here on the floor of the Senate for the American people to see broadcast on television. Don't you think that sort of interaction, and debate, and negotiation out in front of all 330 million Americans would be beneficial to healing our country and coming to some consensus about what the appropriate reforms should be?

HARRIS: Indeed, that is the beauty of the Judiciary Committee. Our meetings are public meetings.

A full transcript of Harris’ remarks can be found below:

HARRIS: Madam President, the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks are the latest in a long history of violence against Black people in America.

But thanks to the advocacy, thanks to the courage of their mothers and fathers and relatives and all of the civil rights leaders, the lawyers, those who are marching in the streets and smartphones, everyone can finally bear witness to the violence that has been happening in our country at the hands of police.

Now, let's be clear. This behavior is not new – mothers have been crying over their dead children's bodies for generations.

Yet no one would listen. No one would listen.

Emmett Till's mother had the courage as a leader to say, the world will listen when they look at my baby's body in that casket.

And yet here we are these many decades and generations later and still we have not seen meaningful change in America on this subject. It is time we act. It is time we act. And let us be clear, sometimes, some of the most courageous and important work that has happened in this United States Congress has happened, not because there was leadership in the body, but because the people demanded it and they would not relent until their government and elected leaders and representatives listened to and answered their call for steps toward what we call a more perfect union.

It has been many a time the case that it is because of the people marching in the streets, that we had the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act, and the Fair Housing Act, because the people would allow nothing less than that we as a government, be true to our stated ideals.

And yes, over the last three and a half years in our country, many of us have wondered whether the leaders of this country actually pay homage to and have any desire to institute and to get closer to those ideas.

This is a moment for the United States Senate to say we as a body will do that. That what is clear right now in this moment, and in this movement is that there is still work that can be done, not just should be done, but can be done to come closer to those words and scribed across the street in the United States Supreme Court, to effectuate equal justice under law. It is within our grasp to do this not just an imperative, it is within our grasp.

And while in America today, people from every state, all 50 states, every walk of life, are demanding we take the problem of police brutality seriously. We have this opportunity and we should see it as such. Where before there may have been reluctance to go against the strength of the status quo which is always reluctant if not hostile, to change.

The people in the streets of every race, every gender, every age, from every state are not only giving us permission but demanding that their leaders finally make good on the American promise of equal justice under the law. And they are demanding this change. They're not just asking for it.

And so, we can't answer the people's demand for accountability with watered-down politics and watered-down policies and an obstructionist tactic to distract us from what we clearly know is necessary to meet the calls and the cries of this moment and this movement. And so, I will say we cannot answer their demands with this Republican attempt to obstruct real progress and real justice in our country.

And for all of the pundits out there that want to entertain a conversation about whether democrats want police reform, are you kidding me? Are you kidding me?

We are responding to the cries in the street. We are taking them seriously. And we have proposed a prescription that actually responds to not just their demands, but the specific cases and the bodies that have just most recently been buried much less the generations of Black bodies that have been buried because of this issue.

So, don't anyone dare suggest we are standing in the way of progress. Let us all be clear about what is happening in the politics of this moment.

The Republican bill has been thrown out to give lip service to an issue with nothing substantial in it that would actually save or would have saved any of those lives.

So, let's not be distracted from the task at hand.

I intend to vote against a motion to proceed tomorrow. I also intend to vote for a motion to proceed with real reform. I'm not against the motion to proceed, we should proceed. Let's proceed with action, not gestures, with action.

And let's talk about then the Republican bill, I'm a former prosecutor. I've personally prosecuted everything from low level offenses to homicides. I've worked almost my entire career with police officers. And what I can tell you is this, and I'm certain of it – police officers will tell you how difficult their job becomes when their colleagues and other police officers break the rules and break the law. They'll tell you that. They'll tell you that it has the effect of, it affects the culture of their working environment. It affects the morale of where they work every day. It affects the integrity of their work. What they know is bad cops are bad for good cops. What we all know is that it is in the best interest of community safety and harmony that the people trust their government and it is a reciprocal relationship.

So, in addition to what our bill proposes the Justice in Policing Act, about accountability and consequence, it is also brought forward with a spirit of what we know is in the best interest of growing trust and the American people's trust in their government.

And so, as a former prosecutor, I will also say, we often in the criminal justice system, talk about and use this phrase, accountability and consequence. We use it all the time, accountability and consequence, there must be accountability and consequence. And almost every time that phrase is invoked, it is directed at the person who was arrested and hardly ever is that phrase directed at the very system itself and the actors in that system.

Where is the accountability and consequence, when a system fails the people it is designed to protect? Where is the accountability and consequence when people who have been invested by the people with a gun and a badge- it is the power we give them. Where is the accountability and consequence when they abuse that power? One must ask. And our bill is designed to address just that. And I will tell you there is not one component of the Republican bill that does the same.

So, let's talk about the history of where we are today, just recent history, meeting in the United States Senate on this subject.

On Monday, June 9, in response to protests in all 50 states of these United States, Senator Cory Booker and I, along with our CBC and House Judiciary colleagues, and a majority of our Senate caucus announced the Justice in Policing Act. Over one week later, and now, the people are marching in the streets, let's just remember this, people are marching in the streets every night, every day. Over one week later, somebody got the memo. And then what did they do? They came up with what they call the Justice Act as a way to essentially show that they've got something, but to basically obstruct what already had been put in place.

They did it because they knew that the people were demanding something. And what they put up instead of meeting those demands was a tactic, a tactic to obstruct the progress of the Justice and Policing Act. And then they're playing a political game around here, saying, look at the democrats won't vote for policing reform.

No, we actually are fully prepared to vote for policing reform, which is why a week earlier than you figured it out, we figured it out and put it on paper and presented it to the nation. So, let's not play political games today and tomorrow.

Let us understand, Senator McConnell, the majority leader made it clear. And you know, Senator Booker, I wasn't here for those days when you saw a lot of that bipartisan work. I did see it with our COVID bills. And I'm thankful that that did happen. But what I've seen most recently on this issue is that Senator McConnell made it clear he had no intention of passing bipartisan comprehensive legislation on policing reform.

And instead, what we have seen is that instead of an ability that all of us in this chamber have to pass the Justice in Policing Act, which has already gained 227 co-sponsors, enough to pass the House. Instead, the leader, the senate leader has scheduled this vote tomorrow to not solve the problem of police brutality in America, but to solve his political problem, to solve his political process which he has taken no stand and that caucus has taken no meaningful stand on an issue that has people in our streets marching for the last three weeks and those marching folks will go on.

The proposal was carefully crafted that is being offered tomorrow for a vote. The Republican proposal was carefully crafted to deflect from real change by merely, as my colleague Senator Booker outlined, Senator Schumer outlined, by merely offering to study the problem without doing anything to solve it. That’s empty.

CORNYN: Madam President, Madam President would the senator yield for a question?

HARRIS: When I’m finished I will. The Republican bill does not even provide a baseline for a discussion or amendment on police reform in that there are no mechanisms to hold law enforcement officers accountable in court for their misconduct.

There is no transparency into police misconduct, which is necessary, of course, to enable communities to hold officers accountable. There is no requirement of data collection on all use of force incidents, or on racial or religious profiling.

There is no ban on harmful policing policies and practices such as racial and religious profiling, no knock warrants in drug cases, we're not banning all no knock warrants, no knock warrants in drug cases, because Breonna Taylor would be alive today had that been the case - choke holes, carotid holes. No, reform of those issues in the Republican bill that's being offered. And there is no standard, national standard for use of force.

So, I'm happy to entertain the question from the Senator from Texas and then I'll conclude my comments.

CORNYN: Thank you. Madam President, I wonder if the senator would tell me the bill, the police act, that it sounds like our democratic conference intends to block tomorrow includes the anti-lynching legislation that you and Senator Booker have championed. Are you aware of that?

HARRIS: The same one that Rand Paul obstructed a couple weeks ago? Yes, I am aware of that.

CORNYN: So, you're gonna block. Madam President, so the senators are gonna block their own anti-lynching bill, by their vote tomorrow.

HARRIS: Absolutely not. And I think that it is important that we not distract the American people from the task at hand. We cannot pull out a specific component of this bill, and leave everything else in the garbage bin. And that is the logical and actual and practical conclusion of where you're going with the suggestion that we would sacrifice issues like no knock warrants, issues like national standard for use of force, issues like the need for independent investigations of police misconduct, issues like pattern and practice investigations with subpoena power for the United States Department of Justice in sake of one. It's like asking a mother: save one of your children and leave the others.

CORNYN: Madam President, would the Senator yield for another question?

HARRIS: Absolutely.

CORNYN: Madam President, is the senator certainly is familiar with the rules of the Senate, which allows senators to offer amendments to improve legislation once we get on it. But if the Democratic Conference is going to prevent the Senate from actually getting on the bill, there's no opportunity for anyone, any senator, you or any one of us to offer amendments to improve it. And I would further ask the senator, aren't you aware of the fact that there are 60 vote thresholds on the back end, so that if we get on the bill, and you don't like the way it turns out, you can block it on the back end, but is the Senator aware of those options that she has.

HARRIS: Well, Senator Cornyn, you and I both serve, and we are honored to serve on the Senate Judiciary Committee, as does Senator Booker, Senator Durbin. We all serve on the Judiciary Committee, the two Senate authors of this bill serve with you on the Senate Judiciary Committee, as you know, because we've been present together during our most recent hearings. We have asked that there would be a meaningful discussion of the Justice in Policing Act in that committee, none has occurred. So, if we're going to talk about process, let us look at all the tools that are available to well-intentioned well-meaning legislators if the goal is actually to solve and address the issue at hand. I've seen no evidence of that. I've seen no evidence of, in fact, what I've seen reading some of the newspapers, sometimes they get things wrong, but if they got it right, the Senate leader said that he has no interest in engaging in that kind of discussion or debate before putting the bill on the floor for a vote tomorrow.

CORNYN: Madam President, may I ask one last question to the Senator? What I'm trying to fathom, Madam President is why the Senator would rather have these negotiations occur behind closed doors, as opposed to here on the floor of the Senate for the American people to see broadcast on television. Don't you think that sort of interaction, and debate, and negotiation out in front of all 330 million Americans would be beneficial to healing our country and coming to some consensus about what the appropriate reforms should be?

HARRIS: Indeed, that is the beauty of the Judiciary Committee. Our meetings are public meetings.

I will now conclude my remarks by saying that I do believe now is the time for Congress to pass legislation that will bring real change and real improvement. It is time that we meet this moment and meet the movement that we are seeing outside of these doors.

We are seeing people of every race, gender, and age, and religion marching together in unison as Americans. We are seeing people putting their bodies on the line in the face of more excessive force and tear gas to stand for equality for all people.

The bill that is being offered for vote tomorrow does not in any way meet the needs of this moment and the long-standing needs America has had for reform. And I will therefore join Senator Schumer and Booker in not only sending a letter to Senator McConnell this morning demanding that the Senate vote on the Justice in Policing Act.

But, I will say that I fully intend to vote against a motion to proceed until and unless we are as a body are prepared to offer meaningful, meaningful reforms upon which we can debate. But I will say also that one of the other problems with what is being offered by our colleagues across the aisle is it is not meeting the moment, in terms of, the need for reform. It is simply, it is basically they've constructed a confessional where there can be a confession of misdeeds after the fact. And that in no way meets the moment in terms of reforms that are necessary.

And so, you know, in the words of my, immortal words, my great uncle Sherman, God rest his soul, that dog don't hunt. Thank you.

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