GOP lawmakers aim to craft changes to police practices

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Astrid Riecken

Sen. Timothy Eugene Scott, R-S.C., speaks during a a Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 9, 2020. (Astrid Riecken/The Washington Post via AP, Pool)

WASHINGTON – Republican Sen. Tim Scott proposes a national database of police officer-involved shootings. Sen. Rand Paul wants to stop sending surplus U.S. military equipment to local law enforcement. And Sen. Mitt Romney seeks a number of bipartisan bills in response to police violence.

Despite President Donald Trump’s “law and order” approach to demonstrations over the death of George Floyd, Republicans in Congress are quickly, if quietly, trying to craft legislation to change police practices and accountability following the deaths of black Americans at the hands of law enforcement.

GOP senators, who risk losing control of the chamber in this fall's election, are distancing themselves from the tone and substance of Trump's response as they step gingerly into a topic many have long avoided as the “Black Lives Matter” movement gains support.

“I think we should all be optimistic right now," Scott, the only black GOP senator, told reporters at the Capitol. "We have no reason not to be.”

The burst of legislative activity in the Republican ranks — GOP leadership named Scott to lead a working group — is an abrupt turnaround. It comes as Trump lashes out at activists who want to “defund the police” while Democrats, powered by the Congressional Black Caucus, have unveiled the most sweeping police overhaul in years. House leadership announced it is recalling lawmakers back to Washington this month for a vote.

Lawmakers are watching as demonstrations erupt in all corners of the country, from the biggest cities to the smallest towns, and acknowledging the arrival of a mass movement for law enforcement changes as politically impossible to ignore.

Notably, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whose state faced unrest following the death of Breonna Taylor after police used a no-knock warrant to enter her Louisville home, tried to strike a different tone for the party.

McConnell said the country is still "wrestling with America’s original sin,” a reference to slavery.