Bipartisan Police Reform Bill Is Officially Dead in Congress

Democratic Sen. Cory Booker and his GOP counterpart, Sen. Tim Scott, had been negotiating a bipartisan police reform bill for months. But it just died.
Cameron Joseph
Washington, US
Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., right, and Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J. talk as they wait for a Senate subway train on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, July 30, 2021.

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A monthslong effort to craft a bipartisan police reform bill officially fell apart on Wednesday, after GOP negotiators rejected Democrats’ final offer. 

The last version of Democrats’ proposal—and the bare minimum of what they said they could accept in a bill—would have barred officers from using chokeholds, limited the transfer of military-grade equipment to local police departments, and created a federal database on police officers’ misconduct.


“After months of exhausting every possible pathway to a bipartisan deal, it remains out of reach right now, even after working collaboratively with and securing the support of policing groups like the Fraternal Order of Police and International Association of Chiefs of Police for our proposals,” Democrats’ lead negotiator, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, said in a statement.

“Unfortunately, even with this law enforcement support and further compromises we offered, there was still too wide a gulf with our negotiating partners and we faced significant obstacles to securing a bipartisan deal. The time has come to explore all other options to achieve meaningful and commonsense policing reform,” the statement continued.

Booker and Scott—two of the three Black men in the Senate—had negotiated diligently with California Democratic Rep. Karen Bass for months to try to craft a bill that would make significant progress toward reining in police brutality and creating accountability for bad actors.

Over the summer, it looked like they were close to finalizing a deal. Booker, Bass, and Scott put out a joint statement saying they’d reached an agreement on the framework for a bill. But then on Wednesday, Booker called Scott to let him know Democrats were done negotiating, Booker’s office confirmed to VICE News.


Scott and the GOP strongly opposed changing the legal doctrine of qualified immunity that keeps police officers from being sued when they break the law. While Democrats had tentatively accepted a watered-down workaround that would have reformed rules around filing lawsuits against police departments but not addressed legal precedent that makes it nearly impossible to sue individual officers, the bill was contingent on them getting other important parts of the deal included.

And as the summer dragged into fall, Democrats became increasingly convinced that Scott didn’t really want a deal and felt that whenever they were close on an agreement, Scott kept moving the goalposts.

“He didn’t want a deal and torpedoed it. In the months since we’ve made concessions, tried to compromise, but he wasn’t willing to move,” a Senate Democratic aide told VICE News.

Scott’s office didn’t respond to requests for comment on why the talks had collapsed.

According to Democratic Senate aides involved in the negotiations, the final straw was when Scott balked at codifying an executive order President Trump had issued last summer into law. That order, which was viewed as a police-friendly half-measure when it was issued last summer, aimed to create a national database of police misconduct and created new federal guidelines for use of force.

That came as a shift, as Scott and Booker thought they had a broad agreement on that point as far back as June.