Ban Chokeholds for Federal Dollars, House Tells Police Forces

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi arrives at a Friday news conference on Capitol Hill. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON (CN) — The House of Representatives passed a $1.3 trillion spending bill on Friday that pushes police to ban chokeholds and pulls funding from the Trump administration’s court challenge of the federal health care law. 

Democratic policy initiatives, including $210 billion in emergency relief to help fight the coronavirus pandemic, are woven heavily into the spending bill, which appropriates money for a large portion of the federal government including the Departments of Defense, Commerce and Justice.

The bill passed on largely partisan lines Friday afternoon, 217-197. 

As a condition of receiving federal policing grants funded as part of the law, state and local governments must ban the use of chokehold and no-knock warrants, among other reforms, including the elimination of racial profiling and implicit bias.

As part of the $33.2 billion given to the Department of Justice, the legislation sets aside $400 million in grants for police reform efforts, including $100 million for pattern and practice investigations and $25 million for pilot programs.

The legislation comes amid ongoing nationwide protests against racial injustice in policing spurred by the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man who died in Minneapolis police custody in May.

Last month, the House passed a broad police-reform bill that would ban chokeholds and no-knock warrants at the federal level and set up a national registry for police misconduct. The bill has languished in the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said it will not receive a vote.

Senate Republicans came up with their own plan that would tie federal dollars to police-reform efforts at the state and local level, but Democrats in the chamber blocked the proposal, saying the Senate should take up the House bill instead.

Democrats cast the police-reform provisions in Friday’s spending package as a chance to take meaningful action in the absence of broader legislation.

“We cannot wait for Republicans to heed the voices of the left out and the left behind,” California Democrat Representative Barbara Lee said on the House floor Friday. “If we did, we might be stuck waiting until Hell freezes over. That’s why House Democrats are using the appropriations process to build safer and stronger communities for every American — that’s every American.”

Other amendments the House agreed to in the days leading up to Friday’s vote would prohibit federal law enforcement and military personnel from acting in a way that violates the First Amendment, while also blocking the Department of Justice from using any funds appropriated in the legislation to buy tear gas and other chemical agents.

The prohibitions come in response to high-profile confrontations between protesters and federal forces in cities like Portland and outside of the White House, where agents used tear gas on a largely peaceful crowd of protesters to clear Lafayette Square before a photo op for President Donald Trump.

Beyond the current debate over race and policing, the House also tacked on an amendment aimed at defunding the Justice Department’s involvement in a Supreme Court fight over the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act.

Passed 234-181 on Thursday night, the amendment would bar the Justice Department from arguing in court that “any provision” of the law better known as Obamacare “is unconstitutional, or is invalid or unenforceable on any ground.”

The Justice Department has sided with a group of red states in arguing before the Supreme Court that Obamacare is unconstitutional thanks to a change in the GOP tax cut that zeroed out the penalty for people who did not purchase health insurance. 

Arguments in the case will take place in the fall. A federal judge struck down the entirety of the law in 2018 and the Fifth Circuit partially agreed, though it declined to invalidate Obamacare as a whole.

This week’s amendment specifically prohibits the Trump administration from arguing that the rest of the law cannot stand without the so-called individual mandate. Known as severability, the argument over whether the individual mandate is necessary for the rest of the law to survive will be a key point of argument at the high court.

Despite its passage in the House, it is unlikely the spending bill will gain traction in the Republican-controlled Senate and become law.

The House left for the weekend after passing the spending bill, but House leadership pushed off a planned August recess as Republicans and Democrats remain in a deadlock over a new coronavirus-relief package.

With the Senate departing town as well, that leaves a $600 enhanced unemployment benefit to expire at the end of the day. Democrats rejected a White House bid to extend the temporary benefit — meant to cushion the blow for people who lost their jobs during the pandemic — by one week. Republicans have proposed cutting the benefit in the next relief package.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi told reporters Friday the one week extension the White House offered was of little use, as such an action is typically only useful to accommodate the time it takes for legislation to clear procedural hurdles in the House and Senate, not to give time for further negotiations when the sides remain far apart.

“What are you going to do in a week?” Pelosi said. “First of all, they don’t even have the votes for it in the Senate. Let’s get real about who says what.”

%d bloggers like this: