McConnell: Defunding police 'one of the dumbest ideas' America's ever seen

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that defunding the police is “one of the dumbest ideas” in the history of the United States as he also doubled down on Republicans’ stance against making changes to qualified immunity, a major issue in congressional police reform negotiations. 

McConnell, R-Ky., made the comments at an event in Owensboro, Ky., on a federal anti-drug program. He opened his remarks thanking the law enforcement officers present for their service. 

“It’s been a tough year for law enforcement,” McConnell said in remarks streamed by 14 News. “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.”

He 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.” 

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., speaks at a Senate Rules Committee markup to argue against the For the People Act, which would expand access to voting and other voting reforms, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, May 11, 2021. In remarks in Kentucky on Tuesday, McConnell said defunding police is "one of the dumbest ideas" in American history. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Republicans have hammered Democrats over the push by some in the far left wing of the party to defund police, which has alternatively meant cutting police funding significantly or getting rid of policing entirely. Most moderate Democrats, including President Biden, have rejected this idea. But it is still prominent among many activists and even some local officials and federal legislators. 

McConnell was also asked about ongoing police reform negotiations in Congress, which are being led on the Republican side by Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C. 

Scott and his Democratic counterparts, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., have expressed optimism that there is common ground to be found for a bipartisan bill. But one major sticking point is qualified immunity, a protection for government officials, like police officers, that shields them from civil lawsuits if they violate somebody’s rights. 

“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 in the remarks streamed by 14 News.

“If every single one of those incidences becomes a potential personal lawsuit,” McConnell continued, “I’m not sure any of you guys would want to do what you do. I mean, how could you recruit?”

Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., poses before a meeting with Seventh Circuit Court Judge Amy Coney Barrett, President’s Trump’s pick for the Supreme Court, in the Mansfield Room of the U.S. Capitol on Sept. 29, 2020. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., praised Scott for his work on police reform Tuesday. (Bonnie Cash-Pool/Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Most Republicans are opposed to making a change in qualified immunity, and Democrat negotiators had indicated they would drop their demands on scaling back the protection to pass a bipartisan bill that reaches 60 votes in the Senate. But a handful of House Democrats recently said any legislation “must” include the elimination of qualified immunity. That demand could put the passage of any police reform package in danger if those Democrats choose to vote against a bill that doesn’t address the issue. 

“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,” a letter signed by 10 House Democrats, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., said. 

“Given that police violence, as a weapon of structural racism, continues to have devastating and deadly consequences for Black and brown lives across our country, we strongly urge you to not only maintain but strengthen the provision eliminating qualified immunity as negotiations in the Senate continue,” it added.

McConnell was also asked about his opposition to the bill that would create a commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by a mob of Trump supporters. He reiterated his past condemnations of the mob and former President Trump – he said the attack was “provoked by the president.” 

But McConnell said in the remarks streamed by 14 News the Department of Justice is engaged in a sprawling investigation into those who attacked the Capitol and congressional committees are addressing Capitol security. 

“Nobody’s going to get away with anything who was involved with the incident at the Capitol on Jan. 6,” he said. “I simply think the commission is not necessary.”

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