Alabama Democratic Sen. Doug Jones Still Sees A Path Forward On Police Reform

Current Work | Thu, 06/25/2020 at 03:00 PM

(NPR) – As the House votes on a Democratic police reform bill, reform efforts appear to have stalled in Congress. Senate Democrats blocked debate Wednesday on a Republican bill that they said didn’t go far enough.

Democrats have pushed for chokehold and no-knock warrant bans, and an end to qualified immunity, provisions that are included in the House bill drafted by Democrats but not in the Senate bill.

Democratic Sen. Doug Jones, who faces an uphill battle for reelection this year in Alabama, was one of just two Democrats to vote yes on the procedural motion Wednesday. Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Independent Sen. Angus King of Maine also voted to proceed.

Jones says he would not vote for the GOP bill “as is” but wanted to bring the bill — drafted by Republican Sen. Tim Scott — to the floor for debate.

“I think if we had done that, the American people would have seen the flaws in Sen. Scott's bill,” Jones says. “Unfortunately, I don't think [Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell wants to do that. He wants to make sure that people don't see that, and it’s kind of a bad place where we are right now.”

Interview Highlights

On whether he would support the Republican bill itself, which doesn’t ban chokeholds, or end no-knock warrants or qualified immunity:

"No, I doubt, I doubt it. That's not to say that there couldn't be some language that can be added to a bill that would strengthen the bill as is. But I think those are very, very important things that we have to talk about. …. That one thing that I think was most disappointing is that Sen. McConnell completely rejected any discussions, any sending to Judiciary Committee, sending to an ad hoc committee of bipartisan senators to try to work out these differences. We could have done that as well as believe, but he completely rejected that, instead wanted to put a bill on the floor that had only been written about a week earlier."

On whether Congress may end up passing nothing despite protests and public sentiment:

"I think it's possible, but I am going to be hopeful that that's not the case. I still believe that there is a political will in the United States Senate to try to get something done. It may not be as strong as the House-passed bill, the one that's going to pass today. But I do think in talking to colleagues, there is the political will to get something done because I think we're at a moment in history in which the American public, from all walks of life, all races, religions and political persuasions, are demanding it."

On whether he supports the removal of Confederate monuments from all public spaces, given his support for the removal of Confederate names and symbols from military bases:

"I've always said that this should be a matter left to local authorities and the public. I think you start with where we are with the Confederacy. The Confederacy was generals that took up arms against the United States of America. And I think what the Armed Services Committee did a couple of weeks ago was a really important step in recognizing that. Now there are serious, serious barriers to racial justice in this country. … I don't want to see folks get so focused on names and symbols as opposed to the real barriers that are out there. I think that we can reach that sweet spot where we can do both.

"I would like to see folks at this point go to their governments and give these governments a chance. We are at such an important point in history. You are seeing the symbols falling left and right. And what I'm saying is let folks look at this. I'm not saying wait. But, you know, I've never advocated any kind of violent action whatsoever. I think that there are ways to do this. And I think we are at a point now where everybody is listening and everybody is studying and everybody looking and wanting to make sure that we do the right thing. We are trying to do what's best for America."

On whether Alabama should roll back its reopening given the state’s spike in COVID-19 cases:

"I think we're going to have to start looking at that, at least on the local levels. I think Alabama did the right thing and we started out very slowly trying to reopen. But people were so frustrated and wanted to get out that they didn't listen to the second part of the message, and that is it is still safer at home. You still need to wear mask, you still need to social distance. And people just got out and they've let their guard down, and they see all of these things happening on national television, with the president and others who are basically writing this virus off, and they think, OK, it's all right to do. Well, it's not all right to do. We have got to get past the political correctness of wearing a mask and get into the fact that it is a health issue."

On whether masks should be mandatory statewide in Alabama:

"We're getting close to that if folks don't start paying attention. I don't know whether the governor will do it or not."

On passing another economic relief package before the end of July:

"I’d like to pass another relief package before then. I don't know what the dollar figure would be. I wanted to pass something last month, and I think we have to start doing something to kind of wean off the unemployment compensation, but give businesses the opportunity to keep people on the payroll. That's the paycheck security program that I have with Sen. [Mark] Warner and others to let businesses open up safe and effectively and let the federal government continue to provide some relief so that we don't have another incredible dip in our economy."

(Jeremy HobsonNPR