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The Great Vote Smart Research Off: Bipartisanship and Police Reform

Updated: Oct 26, 2020

Written By: Elizabeth Ford, Vote Smart Intern

Elizabeth is an incoming Senior at Pepperdine University.

Police reform is at the forefront of our nation’s consciousness right now, with Americans around the country calling for change. The United States Congress has responded with various proposals for police reform, and many people are hoping that legislation can be passed quickly. Considering the large numbers of both Republicans and Democrats in Congress, these proposals will need bipartisan support in order for timely change to occur. But what does bipartisanship in Congress really mean? The way politicians are speaking about a police reform bill called the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020, which passed a vote in the House of Representatives on June 25, highlights the sometimes confusing nature of the term. 

Some members of Congress have opposed the bill, accusing it of being partisan due to its complete list of Democratic cosponsors. For example, Alabama Representative Bradley Byrne stated, “Democrats refused Republicans' offer to work together to achieve the bipartisan, meaningful reform Americans are calling for.” These feelings may be fairly widespread among Republican representatives, who made up 99.4% of nay votes on the bill. A few Republicans voted to pass the bill, however, with Michigan Representative Fred Upton saying, “The bill as it passed today will not become law but we now have an opportunity to seek common ground.” While those like Representative Byrne demand bipartisan input and cooperation in the initial creation of a bill, others like Representative Upton anticipate it later in the legislative process. Furthermore, some members of Congress appear to consider the bill already bipartisan. Michigan Representative Elissa Slotkin’s office, for instance, wrote that the bill passed the House “with bipartisan support.” For Representative Slotkin, bipartisanship is found in the fact that at least one Republican voted in favor of the Justice in Policing Act. 

While it is by no means wrong for members of Congress to have these differing perceptions of bipartisanship, their conflicting ideas can make understanding the nature of a bill and its supporters a challenge. These nuances make a site like Vote Smart especially important. As the site helps voters navigate political language, they can also clearly understand a politician’s values.

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