WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats voted on Wednesday to block a narrow Republican bill to incentivize police departments to change their tactics, refusing even to open debate on a measure they denounced as an insufficient and irredeemably flawed answer to the problem of systemic racism in law enforcement.
The vote, 55-45, was a setback in the effort to pass legislation this year to address excessive use of force and racial discrimination by police, amid a groundswell of public sentiment in favor of overhauling law enforcement. The Democratic-led House is set on Thursday to pass its own sprawling legislation, but Senate Republican leaders have said they would not take up that measure, setting the stage for a bitter stalemate on the issue.
Expressing their deep opposition to the bill, Democrats on Tuesday demanded that Republicans negotiate a more expansive package that both parties could support, citing the opposition of dozens of civil rights groups to the measure as drafted. Without assurances from Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, that they would have adequate chances to modify the bill, Democrats argued that it was an unacceptable starting point for discussion.
Republicans were livid at Democrats’ refusal to even allow the measure to reach the floor for a debate, and accused them of deliberately sinking the bill for political purposes. It would have needed 60 votes to advance in the Senate, where a three-fifths supermajority is necessary for most major action.
The Republican bill, spearheaded by Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, would encourage state and local police departments to change their practices, including penalizing departments that do not require the use of body cameras and limiting the use of chokeholds. It would not alter the qualified immunity doctrine that shields officers from lawsuits or place new federal restrictions on the use of lethal force.
The measure that the House will consider on Thursday, the most aggressive intervention into policing that lawmakers have proposed in recent memory, would in effect eliminate qualified immunity, make it easier to track and prosecute police misconduct, restrict the use of lethal force, and aim to force departments to eliminate the use of chokeholds.
Wednesday’s vote did not foreclose the possibility of reviving the policing measure, and Mr. McConnell said on Tuesday that he would use a procedural maneuver that would allow him to bring it up again in the future. But a flurry of private bipartisan talks to strike a deal on the issue had not borne fruit.