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House passes policing and public safety package, boosting vulnerable Democrats

The Senate is not expected to vote on the legislation before the Nov. 8 midterm elections.
Police gather at the scene of a shooting
Police gather at the scene of a shooting in Brooklyn, New York on June 23, 2022.Spencer Platt / Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — The House passed a package of police funding and public safety bills Thursday, legislation that will help vulnerable Democrats blunt GOP campaign attacks that they want to “defund the police” and are ignoring rising crime.

The legislative package "made very clear that we get the backs of law enforcement ... [that] we need to invest — not defund — to protect our communities and protect our officers," said moderate Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., who is being targeted by Republicans this fall and negotiated the package with top progressives and Congressional Black Caucus leaders.

Rep. Josh Gottheimer
Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., at a news conference in New York on Aug. 15.John Minchillo / AP file

Four policing and safety bills were passed after some last-minute intraparty drama earlier in the day. Even though the package had been negotiated by Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., and Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., others on the left had threatened to vote down the rule governing floor debate on the legislation. Had they followed through, it would have derailed the entire package and dealt Democrats an embarrassing blow on a major campaign issue before the midterms.

After a two-hour delay, the rule passed 216-215, but not before a handful of progressives took aim at Gottheimer’s bill to provide funding for small police departments. Progressives said they wanted more police accountability measures before they sent departments more money, and they objected that Gottheimer’s bill did not go through a committee before leadership brought it to the floor for a vote.

“I fundamentally reject the timing of the bill, and I will be voting no on the Gottheimer bill,” Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., a member of the band of progressive Democrats known as “the squad,” said before the final votes.

All four bills were written by moderate Democrats in competitive races this November.

The Gottheimer bill, which easily passed 360-64, would provide grants to police departments with fewer than 125 sworn officers. Another measure, sponsored by Rep. Katie Porter of California, passed 223-206; it would provide grants for mental health professionals and other resources.

The two other bills were written by Congressional Black Caucus members. The first, by Rep. Steven Horsford of Nevada, which passed 220-207, would fund nonprofit, community and faith-based organizations that work to reduce crime. The other, by Rep. Val Demings of Florida, who is trying to unseat GOP Sen. Marco Rubio in November, would give police grants to help solve gun crimes. It passed 250-178.

“We’re not the ‘defund’ party, and hardly anybody in our party believes defund,” said Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md. “The Republicans, of course, don’t care about the facts — they know it’s a lie. We fund the police, and they don’t.”

 But he also added: “We want performance and accountability.”

The agreement on the policing package came after months of difficult negotiations between Gottheimer, a co-chair of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, and Congressional Black Caucus leaders, including Chair Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio, and Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries of New York, as well as Omar, a Black Caucus member who is also part of “the squad.”

Omar, who represents the Minneapolis district where police killed George Floyd in 2020, said the policing bills “create a path for our communities to be safe and feel safe.”

"We are proud of the work that we have been able to do here collectively as Democrats with different ideologies," she told reporters. "And I think this is a beginning of hopefully a process that we can continue to engage in."

But it is unclear what happens to the package now. While there is Senate support for some of the bills, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has no plans to bring a policing package to the floor before the Nov. 8 midterm election.

Jayapal said: "If we could control the Senate, things would look very different."