Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) suggested that there should be no changes to the qualified immunity legal shield for police officers in any bill introduced in Congress, while saying that the “defund the police” movement that sparked such calls is “one of the dumbest ideas” in U.S. history.
“It’s been a tough year for law enforcement,” McConnell said during an event in Kentucky. “And so I want to make it absolutely, perfectly clear. I am a strong supporter of law enforcement across America. I think the abuse that has been heaped on law enforcement over the last year is unfortunate.”
The senator added: “I think defunding the police has got to be one of the dumbest ideas ever surfaced by anyone in our country. And we need what you’re doing.”
According to a recent poll, only about 18 percent of Americans support the call to “defund the police,” which was chanted during Black Lives Matter protests last summer. The Minneapolis City Council last year introduced a measure to try and abolish and replace its police department, while other cities such as New York and Los Angeles cut funding last year.
His comments come in the midst of negotiations on a police reform measure led by Sens. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.). Last week, Scott told reporters that they have imposed a deadline for June, adding: “I think we have three weeks in June to get this done.”
When McConnell was asked about proposals from Democrats to end qualified immunity, a legal principle that grants police officers immunity from civil suits, McConnell said it would create a strong disincentive for people to become police officers.
“Without qualified immunity, how do you get people to do law enforcement work? There’s a bill that passed the House of Representatives that would eliminate qualified immunity … means every police officer would be subject to being sued personally,” McConnell said.
“If every single one of those incidences becomes a potential personal lawsuit,” McConnell added. “I’m not sure any of you guys would want to do what you do. I mean, how could you recruit?”
Some House Democrats, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), have said that any legislation about policing should include the elimination of qualified immunity.
“We are concerned by recent discussions that the provision ending qualified immunity for local, state, and federal law enforcement may be removed in order to strike a bipartisan deal in the Senate,” said a letter signed last month by 10 House Democrats, including Ocasio-Cortez.