After the House wrapped up its scheduled votes a day early, the speaker said it was not a reaction to security concerns at the Capitol.
WASHINGTON (CN) — Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said at a news conference Thursday that a Republican caucus meeting, not the threat of violence, was the reason that her chamber finished key votes a day early.
House lawmakers were expected to work on passing the For the People Act – a massive voting rights law that includes automatic voter registration and campaign finance reforms – through Wednesday evening before taking a vote on Thursday.
But after a myriad of amendments were debated throughout the day, the bill was passed by a 220-210 vote on Wednesday night. It is the same sweeping voting reform bill the House passed in 2019 before Democrats had control of the Senate. The first 300 pages were authored by the late Georgia Representative John Lewis — a staunch voting and civil rights activist known as the “conscience of Congress.”
The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021 was also slated for debate and a vote in the House on Thursday, but it too was approved 220-212 late Wednesday, the same day Capitol Police issued a warning about a militia group’s plot to breach the seat of government. The threat comes two months after the Jan. 6 insurrection by supporters of Donald Trump.
Pelosi said Thursday morning the change wasn’t related to that threat. Instead, she said Republican members had scheduled their party conference for an in-person meeting Thursday afternoon, so the votes on the police reform and voting rights measures were moved up for convenience.
“I don’t think anybody should take any encouragement that because some troublemakers might show up that we changed our whole schedule,” Pelosi said. “No, we just moved it a few hours and it largely will accommodate the Republicans going to their own session.”
The House passed a rule Monday outlining the time allotted for debate and consideration of amendments to both bills, anticipating two days of work.
The police reform bill is the same measure that passed the House last year, a month after its namesake George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, was killed in Minneapolis police custody. The murder trial against former officer Derek Chauvin, who knelt on Floyd’s neck for over eight minutes on May 25, 2020, begins on March 8.
If signed into law, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act would make sweeping reforms to federal law enforcement. Chokeholds are outlawed in the legislation, along with a prohibition of no-knock warrants in drug cases. The bill would also create a national police misconduct registry, making it easier to track problematic officers.
Pelosi said Thursday she was glad the bill received strong Democratic support, although two Democrats – Maine Representative Jared Golden and Wisconsin Representative Ron Kind – voted against the measure.
Democrats are hopeful for bipartisan support in the Senate, she said, noting California Congresswoman Karen Bass was leading negotiations between members across the Capitol in the upper chamber.
“Millions of the people worldwide marched, came out, peacefully demonstrated, to say enough, enough, when they saw George Floyd lynched before their very eyes for eight minutes and 46 seconds,” Pelosi said. “We passed the bill last year, we pass it again this year, we feel very optimistic that there must be some bipartisanship here in the Senate.”
At a news conference Wednesday night following the bill’s passage in the House, Bass – whose district encompasses a portion of Los Angeles County – noted the legislation coincided with the 30-year anniversary of Rodney King’s beating at the hands of L.A. police.
Bass said that with cameras in nearly every cellphone now, documenting police abuses is much easier and that helped lead to passage of police reform legislation.
“We have a president who in his inauguration speech talked about ending racial inequities, he made a commitment to that and he made a commitment to the transformation of policing in the United States,” she said. “So, I am happy we were able to do this today. I am confident that we will be able to work with the Senate and that we will put the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act on President Biden’s desk.”