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Durbin apologizes after "token" remark about Tim Scott-led police reform bill

Senate Republicans unveil police reform bill
Senate Republicans unveil the JUSTICE Act 15:48

Washington — Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois apologized Wednesday to Republican Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina after referring to the GOP police reform legislation spearheaded by Scott as a "token" approach.

Emily Hampsten, a spokeswoman for Durbin, said the Illinois senator did not have a problem with Scott's legislation, but that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell "would short circuit this critical debate and fail to make the changes needed to prevent the killing of Black Americans by police officers."

"The minute Sen. Durbin heard that he had offended Sen. Scott, he sought him out on the floor and apologized," Hampsten said in a statement.

Hampsten said Durbin opposes a "half-hearted approach" by the Senate and wants "the full and bipartisan attention" of the upper chamber.

"Addressing systemic racism and changing policing in America requires and deserves more than one Judiciary hearing, one floor vote, one conversation," she said.

The controversy arose earlier Wednesday when Durbin had cautioned the Senate against a "token, half-hearted approach" to police reform after Republican senators unveiled their legislation. Scott spearheaded efforts to craft the package and is the only black GOP senator.

In his speech, the Illinois senator called Scott a "friend" and said he both likes and respects him.

Scott, Durbin said, "has done and said things which I think made a real impact on this nation."

Following Durbin's remarks, Scott delivered an impassioned speech on the Senate floor, during which he denounced the comments and called for lawmakers not to allow the momentum behind police reform to subside because of partisan politics.

"To have the senator from Illinois refer to the process, this bill, this opportunity to restore hope and confidence and trust from the American people, from African-Americans, from communities of color, to call this a 'token' process hurts my soul for my country, for our people," he said.

"To think that the concept of anti-lynching that's part of this legislation, to be considered a 'token' piece of legislation, because perhaps I'm African American, and I'm the only one on this side of the aisle, I don't know what he meant, but I can tell you that this day to have those comments again hurts the soul," Scott continued.

Scott's speech marked the five years since the mass shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in which nine people were killed by a white supremacist.

Senate Republicans rolled out their police reform measure Wednesday and plan to vote on the package as soon as next week. The bill requires increased reporting of use of force by police officers and no-knock warrants, and provides grants to fund body cameras for law enforcement. The measure requires police departments to maintain and share disciplinary records, tasks the Justice Department with developing guidelines for de-escalation and makes lynching a federal hate crime.

The legislative efforts in the Senate run alongside a package introduced by House Democrats last week, which bans no-knock warrants and the use of chokeholds and limits qualified immunity for police.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement the Senate's proposal "is not action."

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