House Democrats passed a package of policing and public safety bills on Thursday – following tense internal maneuvering and debate that exposed divisions between moderates and progressives.
Passage of the policing and public safety legislation represents a victory for House Democratic leadership who had long sought to approve the measures, in part to counter attacks from Republicans that Democrats are soft on crime ahead of the upcoming midterm elections. But the push to approve the legislation sparked an intra-party dispute over the package that created uncertainty over whether Democrats would have the votes to pass the plan at all.
House Democrats took up a series of four bills as part of their package on policing and public safety – the Mental Health Justice Act of 2022, the Invest to Protect Act of 2022, the Break the Cycle of Violence Act, and the VICTIM Act of 2022.
House Democrats, who have spent months trying to cobble together a package of police funding bills to help combat attacks on the campaign trail, spent Thursday morning struggling to get the votes to pass it, according to a source familiar with the matter.
Republicans oppose key elements of the full package of policing and public safety bills passed by House Democrats and at least 10 Republicans need to cross party lines to pass most legislation in the Senate to overcome a filibuster.
Several progressive Democrats had threatened to vote against it, and the House went into recess as the leadership tried to sort it out.
The House later cleared a procedural hurdle Thursday afternoon to open debate on the package of bills. The vote was extremely close, however, in a sign of how tight the vote math is for Democrats on the legislation.
House Democratic leaders appeared to have convinced one progressive Democrat – Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts – to vote “present” in order to secure enough votes to pass the long-stalled police funding package that vulnerable members have been demanding, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. Pressley voted present on the procedural vote to begin debate on the bills.
It was a tense few moments on the House floor as Democrats were trying to figure out how to get the votes needed to pass the policing bills during the procedural vote.
Progressive Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota Democrat who negotiated the bills, was huddled with House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, biting her fingernails by the dais.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy tried to hold up the vote and said there was a member who was three minutes away who could vote. When the bills passed, Democrats on the floor cheered.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat from New York and one of four progressives to vote against her party’s policing package during the procedural vote to start debate, aired out her frustrations with House Democratic leadership after Democrats narrowly advanced the package.
“I think it’s very clear that this is about the leadership of our party having certain rules for some members and another standard of rules for others,” Ocasio-Cortez told CNN.
Ocasio-Cortez said she was frustrated because two of the bills did not properly go through committees. She said she does not understand why this package has to include four pieces of legislation, when progressives have voiced concerns over some of the police funding.
“I really struggle to hear or I have not heard an explanation as to why those two bills aren’t being properly introduced to the floor on their own merits. And why must they be packaged with a piece of legislation whose final version no one saw before yesterday,” she said.
Asked if she disagrees with Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal and Omar, who serves as whip of the Progressive Caucus, who voted for the package, Ocasio-Cortez said they are supporting the caucus and she is supporting her district.
“We saw the vast majority of the progressive caucus was in support of the rule. So you know they are functioning in their roles as leaders of the caucus, but also we exist as individual members representing our own communities. And so I think they spoke and they had the votes in their caucus. And we are just functioning as representatives of our districts,” she said.
Progressive Rep. Cori Bush of Missouri, who also voted against the package during the procedural vote, told CNN, “We weren’t the problem.”
“Where is police accountability?” she asked. “You know, when does that happen? When does that come into play.”
Omar told reporters that it “took a lot for us to get here” with the vote to advance the policing bills negotiated by different factions of the party.
When asked whether she’s confident Democrats can get enough votes to pass the bills when they’re on the floor later today, she said she hopes they can.
“You can never be confident here,” she said. “I didn’t walk in just now thinking that there was going to be that glitch and hiccup towards the end and we’re all going to feel like we were in labor, you know, taking the last push, so I can’t tell you what will happen. But I am optimistic that the bills will have life and we’ll move forward.”
The package’s supporters announced Wednesday they’d reach a deal to pass the package this week following months of negotiations. Hoyer told reporters a vote will be scheduled for Thursday, and Rep. Joyce Beatty, the chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said the move comes after reaching a compromise on language ensuring accountability for police officers and dropping another more contentious bill from the discussions.
The legislation is primarily a messaging package going into the midterms as moderate Democratic House members have sought to protect themselves against political attacks that they’re anti-police.
CNN reported earlier this week on how dozens of the party’s most vulnerable members have sought to defuse those attacks through a flurry of pro-police campaign ads and local events with law enforcement.
Democratic Rep. Josh Gottheimer, the sponsor of the Invest to Protect Act, said in a statement ahead of the vote, that the legislation “is about investing in good policing, and protecting our families and our officers. It will ensure that local departments, in New Jersey and communities across our country, have what they need to recruit and retain the finest officers, to provide training, and invest in providing mental health resources.”
This story and headline have been updated with additional developments Thursday.