After months of arguing, Democrats in the House reach a deal to pay for police.
Wednesday, Democrats in the House agreed to hold a vote on a set of bills that would give millions of dollars to local law enforcement and make sure they are held accountable.
The deal was reached after Democrats in the middle and those on the left of the caucus went back and forth for months. Before the midterm elections, some Democrats pushed for the package to be passed as a way to counter GOP attacks that say Democrats are against the police. Democrats in moderate and swing districts have said that the party lost a surprising number of House seats in the 2020 election because of the way they talked about "defunding the police."
People involved in the talks praised the Congressional Black Caucus, especially Chairwoman Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio) and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), for keeping moderate and liberal lawmakers on track during talks over the summer. When leaders tried to pass the package over the summer, Liberals and CBC members both said they wouldn't vote for any bill to fund the police that didn't include accountability measures.
Beatty said of the compromise, "There is no perfect bill and there is no perfect answer." "Not everyone in my group will be celebrating or remembering it, but we will keep working."
The leaders wanted to pass a stronger public safety package in July, and they wanted to tie it to a bill that would ban assault weapons. But members of the Black and Progressive caucuses were against it. They said that any bill to pay for police should also include language about how police should be held accountable.
Beatty, Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.), and leaders finally came to an agreement to add specifics to the moderates' proposals. However, members of the Progressive Caucus and civil rights groups were able to get the assault weapons ban taken out of the public safety package.
That event gave Democratic leaders their most recent headache as they try to get along with different groups of voters represented by different parts of their caucus. It has been a struggle for the caucus at times this term, as members try to work out their differences at the last minute to save legislative priorities.
When the House Democrats left for their August break, they said they would pass the public safety priorities when they came back. This would give them another win to talk about before November.
But according to multiple members and aides who support funding the police, members were not in a hurry to pass the package because they were afraid that doing so would reveal deep divisions within the caucus at a time when Democrats were finally getting some voter enthusiasm back after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in the summer.
Party leaders, the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, and moderate and liberal lawmakers, like CPC Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), reached a deal on Wednesday, just hours after final talks started. The goal is to vote on the deal before the House goes on break next week to campaign for the midterm elections.
Gottheimer and the groups were able to come to an agreement about funding police departments with 125 officers or less and putting some money toward officer training, community safety, and holding police accountable. The money can't be used to hire new people, but it can be used for things like signing bonuses and efforts to improve mental health.
Gottheimer said, "It's important for police work that we have their backs, because every day they have ours."
Reps. Katie Porter (D-Calif.), Steven Horsford (D-Nev.), and Val Demings (D-Fla.) have proposed a bill that would give priority to sending unarmed first responders to help people who are having a mental health crisis. The bill would also give federal grants to communities that work to stop and prevent violence, and it would help police solve gun crimes and help people who have been shot.
But even if the bill passes the House along party lines, it is not a top priority for a Senate that is split down the middle. It's not likely that 10 Republicans would join with Democrats to end the filibuster in the Senate.
It was hard for House Democrats to get to this point, that's for sure. Spanberger and Rep. Tom Rice (R-S.C.) proposed a bipartisan bill, but negotiators took it out of the package because they couldn't agree on how to hold police accountable. The lawmakers had proposed doubling funding for a Justice Department grant given to local police stations. Spanberger said it was hard to add accountability measures to her plan because it was an old program and not something new that could be changed more easily, like the Gottheimer bill for small police departments.
Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) also had a plan to give the Justice Department $50 million to help recruit police officers all over the country. This plan was also taken off the table.
The public safety package will be voted on Thursday, but Democratic factions said Wednesday that it will still be a hard vote for many people who think more needs to be done to hold people accountable or help law enforcement.
Jayapal said, "I can't promise that the whole caucus will back it."
Now that the deadlock is mostly over, Democrats are likely to pass the bills before they go on break in October. This is a win for moderates who want to show that their party is not against law enforcement. But many Black and liberal lawmakers still hope that more accountability measures will be pushed by future Congresses.
"Yes, it's the middle of the year. But more than that, we need accountability, and we need to do this to keep our communities safer," Beatty said. "Remember that people are more important than politics."