WASHINGTON — The House on Thursday passed a package of police funding and public safety bills, legislation that will help vulnerable Democrats blunt GOP campaign attacks that they want to “defund the police” and are ignoring rising crime.
The legislative package “made very clear that we get the backs of law enforcement … [that] we need to invest — not defund — to protect our communities and protect our officers,” moderate Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., who is being targeted by Republicans this fall and negotiated the package with top progressives and Congressional Black Caucus leaders, told NBC News.
The passage of four policing and safety bills came after some last-minute, intraparty drama earlier in the day. Even though the package had been negotiated by Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., and Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., others on the left had threatened to vote down the rule governing floor debate on the legislation. Had they followed through, it would have derailed the entire package and dealt Democrats an embarrassing blow on a major campaign issue before the midterms.
After a two-hour delay, the rule passed 216-215, but not before a handful of progressives took aim at Gottheimer’s bill that would provide funding for small police departments. Progressives said they wanted more police accountability measures in place before sending departments more money, and they objected to the fact that the Gottheimer bill did not go through a House committee before leadership brought it to the floor for a vote.
“I fundamentally reject the timing of the bill and I will be voting no on the Gottheimer bill,” Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., a member of the progressive band of Democrats known as “the Squad,” said before the final votes.
All four bills were written by moderate Democrats in competitive races this November.
The Gottheimer bill, which easily passed 360-64, would provide grants to local police departments with fewer than 125 sworn officers. Another measure, sponsored by Rep. Katie Porter of California, passed 223-206; it would provide grants for mental health professionals and other resources.
The two other bills were authored by Congressional Black Caucus members. The first, by Rep. Steven Horsford of Nevada, passed 220-207 and would fund nonprofit, community and faith-based organizations that work to reduce crime. The other, by Rep. Val Demings of Florida, who is trying to unseat GOP Sen. Marco Rubio in November, would give police grants to help solve gun crimes. It passed 250-178.
“We’re not the ‘defund’ party, and hardly anybody in our party believes defund,” said Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md. “The Republicans, of course, don’t care about the facts — they know it’s a lie. We fund the police and they don’t.”
But he also added: “We want performance and accountability.”
The agreement on the policing package came after months of difficult negotiations between Gottheimer, co-chair of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, and Congressional Black Caucus leaders, including Chair Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio, Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries of New York, as well as Omar, a Black Caucus member who is part of the Squad.
Omar, who represents the Minneapolis district where George Floyd was killed by police in 2020, said these policing bills “create a path for our communities to be safe and feel safe.”
“We are proud of the work that we have been able to do here collectively as Democrats with different ideologies,” she told reporters. “And I think this is a beginning of hopefully a process that we can continue to engage in.”
But it’s unclear what happens to the package now. While there is Senate support for some of the House-passed bills, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has no plans to bring a policing package to the floor before the Nov. 8 midterm election.
“If we could control the Senate, things would look very different,” Jayapal said.
Kate Santaliz and Sahil Kapur contributed.