House passes policing bills as GOP seeks to highlight crime as campaign issue

The House approved a trio of bills Wednesday aimed at supporting law enforcement during National Police Week — legislation largely opposed by Democrats, as leaders on the left decried GOP attempts to downplay the events of Jan. 6, 2021.

Consideration of the three bills — which face slim odds of moving in the Democratic-controlled Senate — is part of Republicans’ efforts to spotlight crime, which has emerged as a central issue to voters ahead of the November elections and a key vulnerability for President Biden as he seeks another term in the White House.

Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) and GOP leadership held a press conference Wednesday morning alongside two law enforcement officials, underscoring the importance of standing with men and women in blue while also accusing Democrats — especially the Biden administration — of adopting a “pro-crime, anti-law enforcement agenda.”

“This National Police Week, House Republicans will counteract the Democrats’ pro-crime anti-police agenda by bringing seven bills to the floor that support our nation’s law enforcement and give them the resources they need to keep our communities safe,” said House Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-Minn.).

Democrats were quick to reject the notion that they are soft on crime.

Asked about Police Week bills up for consideration this week, Rep. Pete Aguilar (Calif.), the chair of the Democratic caucus, said members on his side of the aisle “want to try to work with our colleagues to get things done” on police reform, but the tendency of some Republicans to defend the Jan. 6 Capitol rioters has challenged that cooperation.

“It’s a little more difficult when they want to try to whitewash what happened [on Jan. 6], when they will stand with some law enforcement but they won’t stand with others,” Aguilar told reporters in the Capitol.

Underscoring that dynamic, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), who sat on the select committee that investigated the Jan. 6 attack, penned a letter to Johnson last week asking about the delay in installing a plaque at the Capitol honoring law enforcement officers who defended the building on Jan. 6.

Congress approved the enactment of the plaque in March 2022 — under the leadership of then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) — as part of the fiscal 2022 government funding bill. The provision required the Architect of the Capitol to place the plaque on the west side of the Capitol by March 2023, a deadline that was not met.

“I urge the House to take immediate action to address this oversight and ensure that the plaque is promptly installed in accordance with the law,” she wrote.

Aguilar called the delay “disappointing.”

“That doesn’t stop us … from every day trying to work with our colleagues in order to get things done. But … it does shape our perspective here, clearly,” he added.

Rep. Ted Lieu (Calif.), vice chair of the Democratic caucus, blasted GOP leaders for passing a series of bills that have virtually no chance of becoming law, arguing that Republicans are more concerned with dividing Democrats than helping law enforcement. 

“What we’re seeing from the Republican conference are a series of messaging bills on a variety of topics, none of which are going to pass the U.S. Senate,” Lieu said.

Two of the bills were widely opposed by Democrats, with a majority of the caucus voting “no.” The first, titled the Detain and Deport Illegal Aliens Who Assault Cops Act, which calls for the detention of undocumented immigrants who assault law enforcement officers, passed in a 265-148 vote.

The second, named the DC Crimes Act, would lower D.C.’s youth offender status to those younger than 18 years old and prevent the city council from changing its sentencing laws. It was approved in a 225-181 vote.

The third in the group, however, received overwhelmingly bipartisan support — 356-55 — with 149 Democrats voting “yes,” including House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) and his leadership team. The legislation, dubbed the Improving Law Enforcement Officer Safety and Wellness Through Data Act, would require the attorney general to submit a report on violent attacks against law enforcement officers.

“Our law enforcement officers keep us safe. They put their lives on a line to do it and we are forever indebted,” Johnson said Wednesday. “And these gestures and these pieces of legislation that we passed this week is the very least that we can do to support them.”

Mike Lillis contributed.

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