As President Biden marked his 100th day in office last week, New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, also marked his 100th day as Senate Majority Leader. In that role, he’stasked with navigating the president’s agenda through an evenly divided chamber.
Unlike the Democratic-led House of Representatives, which can pass bills by a simple majority vote, Senate rules require 60 votes to pass major legislation. That means Democrats must stick together and win over at least 10 Republicans.
Still, Senate Democrats have accomplished a lot under his leadership, Schumer said in an interview with BET.com.
“When we first got in, people said you can’t get it all done. Well, we did an impeachment trial of the president,” Schumer said. “We didn’t convict him as I hoped we would. But it was a trial that showed the perfidy of Trump and his followers.”
Schumer also pointed to several other wins: confirming Biden’s diverse cabinet nominees and passing an historic $1.9 trillion stimulus package. It included provisions that targeted funding for minority-owned businesses and child tax credits to lift kids out of poverty.
However, there’s been a logjam of key measures that could impact the lives of African Americans.
A House Democratic majority has approved the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act in March, but it has stalled in the Senate where Republicans oppose a ban on qualified immunity, which protects officers from civil lawsuits.
Voting rights also weighs in the balance. At the state level, Republican lawmakers are rewriting voting laws that would limit Black voter turnout. There’s an urgency for a federal response.
In March, the House passed a sweeping measure, dubbed the “For the People Act,” that would expand voting rights, as well as overhaul redistricting and campaign finance laws. It threatens to eliminate the tactics Republicans use to stay in power.
There’s also a second voting rights bill that’s under consideration: the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act. Several Congressional Black Caucus members have come out in support of that legislation because of its limited scope. The idea is that it has a better chance of getting some Senate Republican support.
BET.com spoke with Sen. Schumer in a brief phone interview about the legislative obstacles these issues present.
BET.com: What’s your strategy to get the 10 GOP votes needed to pass the George Floyd Reform in Policing Act?
Sen. Chuck Schumer: [Sen.] Cory Booker is our point person on this. He is negotiating with the Republicans to try to get a good strong bill. But we will not negotiate it until it’s next to nothing.
We need a strong bill because we know that there is systemic racism in law enforcement. We’ve all seen it with our eyes now that everyone has cameras on their cellphones. People in the Black community knew this forever. Now I think the rest of America has woken up to the fact.
So, I think we have a decent chance of getting a strong bill, and that’s what Senator Booker is working on.
I’m strongly for the Justice in Policing Act, including getting rid of the immunity and changing the intent standard [that prosecutors must currently prove to convict officers of misconduct], two of the strongest provisions.
BET.com: Are Senate Democrats unifying around the For the People Act or the John Lewis Voting Rights Act?
Sen. Schumer: We like both bills. I would like to pass both. But the most immediate one is S.1 (For the People Act).
The John Lewis Voting Rights Act is prospective; it will deal with the future taking away of voting rights.
However, S.1 is retroactive, so it would apply to the racist, bigoted actions that some of these Republican legislators are taking. It would allow the Justice Department to go in and undo them in time for the next election.
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BET.com: What if you can’t push through either bill?
Sen. Schumer: Fortunately, now we do have a Justice Department that cares about civil rights and voting rights. And they will have some pretty strong tools. But it would be best if we pass S.1 that gives them even more tools to do what they need to do.
BET.com: Do you have the votes to pass the Minority Business Resiliency Act?
Sen. Schumer: We want to tie in the Build Back Better (infrastructure plan) bill that President Biden put together and make sure there is a focus on minority business in every aspect. If we pass the $2 trillion infrastructure bill, so much has to be built, we can set aside [some of that work] for minority businesses.
That’s going to be a boost to minority businesses, more than we’ve ever seen before. So, we’re going to try to incorporate every strong action we can to help minority businesses.
It’s estimated that the bill would create 5 million to 10 million new jobs. We want 40% for people of color, minimum wage workers, the formerly incarcerated. So that we could share the wealth, if you will.