The House and Senate policing reform bills that occupied so much of Congress’ time last week bitterly divided Oklahoma’s seven-member congressional delegation.
The more narrowly focused Republican bill stalled Wednesday in the Senate when it could not get the 60 votes needed to advance. The House passed an expansive Democratic bill Thursday, largely along party lines.
Both parties accused the other of partisanship.
Oklahoma’s six congressional Republicans — Sens. Jim Inhofe and James Lankford and House members Kevin Hern, Markwayne Mullin, Frank Lucas and Tom Cole — denounced Senate Democrats for blocking the Senate proposal, which Lankford had put a good deal of time and effort into, while declaring the Democrat-controlled House version unrealistic.
The lone Democrat, 5th District Congresswoman Kendra Horn, voted for the House bill without mentioning the Senate measure.
“No one should be afraid to interact with the police because of the color of their skin,” Horn said.
Lankford, in a floor speech, said the matter came down to two issues — individual civil liability for law enforcement officers and Democrats’ desire to keep the matter alive until the November elections.
“This bill was a genuine push to be able to reform how we do police work and to increase accountability and transparency across the country,” Lankford said.
There seems to be agreement on several key points, but Democrats argued the Senate bill does not go far enough. Republicans said the House bill has no chance of passage in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Each member of the Oklahoma delegation issued written statements on the situation.
“Unfortunately, my (Democratic) colleagues ... have no intention of changing anything,” said Hern, who represents Tulsa, Washington and Wagoner counties. “Change comes from bipartisan legislation that can pass both the House and the Senate, which requires input from both sides. ... Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi never wanted her bill to make it to the president’s desk, which is why she refused any Republican input. Her goal was to win a moral victory in the House today and victimize herself for the next five months in the hopes of winning an election.
“We saw the same lack of leadership in the Senate,” Hern continued. “Americans are marching, but elected Democrats don’t care. They will play the victim and continue to politicize this issue through Election Day.”
“Police reform is needed, but we can’t endanger the public or our law enforcement officers by creating police departments who lack resources and aren’t able to serve their communities,” said Mullin, who represents most of eastern Oklahoma. “Instead of working on a bipartisan bill that would actually get signed into law, Pelosi Democrats just want talking points during an election year.”
Lucas, whose district includes Osage County and most of Creek County, also espoused efforts toward bipartisanship.
“Republicans agree that reforms are needed to increase transparency and strengthen training methods and we stand ready offering bipartisan solutions to address police misconduct and accountability issues,” he said. “Sadly though, House Democrats rejected the opportunity to enact real and meaningful reform.”
On Defense: The Senate began debate last week on this year’s National Defense Authorization Act, passage of which is Inhofe’s primary task as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The bill lays out the Defense Department’s policy and spending priorities for the coming year and is expected to pass without much trouble, despite some controversy over military bases named for Confederate officers. The Armed Services Committee OK’d the bill 25-2, but that was before the Confederate bases became an issue.
The bill is of particular interest to Oklahomans because of the state’s economic dependence on its five military installations. The bill also includes provisions for research contracts with the University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State University and the University of Tulsa.
Lankford has offered six amendments to the NDAA, most of them dealing with personnel issues.
Dots and dashes: Hern introduced legislation to expand telemedicine options for Medicare patients. ... Lucas joined a bipartisan group of House members who want to maintain federal support of scientific research not related to COVID-19. ... Lankford said during a Senate hearing that naturalized citizenship has reached an 11-year high.
Tulsa danced: Scenes from the Greenwood District block party following President Trump's rally