Two policing bills were put to a vote in the last two days: This one that was blocked by Senate Democrats yesterday and this one that was passed by the House last night but will be blocked by the Senate.

Regarding the bill that the House was about to vote on last night, I read last night's NY Times Thursday Evening Briefing:

It is expected to be approved by the Democratic-led House — and then to be doomed in the Republican-led Senate. That, and a vote on Wednesday in which Democrats blocked a Republican police bill, reflect the waning likelihood that Congress, in this election year, will reach agreement on legislation to address racial bias in policing.

If Congress voted on two separate bills this week, and we're not even in July, then why is it very unlikely that "Congress, in this election year, will reach agreement on legislation to address racial bias in policing?

My question: Why does The NY Times assume that nothing will be done for the rest of the year simply because a bill was not passed on the week of June 25?

Congress still has the rest of the year to work on legislature that both chambers will approve, so why does last night's vote reflect "the waning likelihood that Congress would be able to reach an election-year compromise on legislation to address racial bias in policing"?

Am I missing something?

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    In the ideal world, that's exactly how the system is supposed to work. In the reality of modern politics, neither side is very likely to give enough to lead to a compromise. And a real answer to this question (which this is not) would explain where the disagreements are.
    – Bobson
    Jun 26, 2020 at 14:25
  • They passed two bills in less than a week, so they have at least 26 more weeks for more bills. Jun 26, 2020 at 15:54
  • I guess my question is, why is The NY Times assuming that nothing will be done for the rest of the year simply because a bill was not passed on the week of June 25? Jun 26, 2020 at 15:55
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    The makeup of congress and the political dynamics that shape it won't change until Jan 3, 2021. Jun 27, 2020 at 14:36
  • @PresidentJamesK.Polk - I'd say that the dynamics may change once the election results are known, even if the makeup lags behind that. If one side is about to lose control of the house they control, they're probably more willing to agree to a compromise than wait for the other side to take over and push through their full agenda. Of course, then the side gaining control would want to wait, and it's all still subject to veto, but it's still a different dynamic. You're right that there'll be very little real change until at least Jan 3, though.
    – Bobson
    Jun 30, 2020 at 16:11

2 Answers 2


Because the current perception is that both sides see more advantages to being able to campaign on what they'd do if only the voters would hand them control of the House, Senate, and Presidency than they do in compromising and campaigning on the fact that they got something done.

If no bill passes, Democrats can campaign on the need to overhaul policing and promise that they would pass a sweeping set of changes. If no bill passes, Republicans can campaign on passing a more limited bill that reins in the worst of the abuses without jeopardizing safety.

On the other hand, if a bill passes, both sides would have to go to their base and explain why they gave up something that some element of the base feels strongly about in order to get a less-than-perfect bill passed. Right now, it doesn't look like either base would look favorably on that sort of compromise.

In general, that's why it is harder to pass major legislation close to an election. Both sides need to turn out their base to win and the people that make up the base are generally more interested in ideological purity than in a moderate compromise. And the moderate middle that might vote either way generally have a hard time figuring out who to blame for not compromising (there is generally plenty of blame to go around) and generally aren't motivated to vote based on a single issue so neither party generally loses a lot of swing voters from holding a hard line.

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    @fdkgfosfskjdlsjdlkfsf - Because they can both campaign on the fact that the Other Side blocked their Totally Necessary and Appropriate bill and blame the other for gridlock. And promise that if the voters just give their side a landslide victory that they'll get the Bill of Total Idealogical Purity passed immediately. Jun 26, 2020 at 17:21
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    It is "rein in," like a horse. Furthermore, you imply that Democrat bills would jeopardize safety, which you cannot say without referencing a specific bill. Jun 26, 2020 at 17:42
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    @AzorAhai--hehim I disagree... Justin is interpreting Republican strategy there. The Republicans already have their base convinced that Democrats want to undermine public safety; they don't need a bill to point to.
    – Brian Z
    Jun 26, 2020 at 18:20
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    @xLeitix: It's not necessarily the voters' fault either. The first-past-the-post system is well known for creating polarized two-party systems. A congressperson doesn't need everyone's vote in a given district, they just need 50%+1. You inevitably end up with "safe seats" where anyone with a pulse can win as long as they have a (D) or (R) next to their name, and "swing seats" where random bits of suburbia get to decide the government of one of the largest and most powerful countries on Earth.
    – Kevin
    Jun 28, 2020 at 3:55
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    @Kevin Austria (where I live) has 5 parties in parliament and nothing close to a first-past-the-post system, and yet we see the same trends. I think it's tempting to blame the system, but it's not the only, maybe not even the main, problem.
    – xLeitix
    Jun 28, 2020 at 7:59

Policy Window of Opportunity

As a general rule, if controversial legislation is going to be passed, it is much more likely to happen very soon after the event than much later.

This is to complement @JustinCave excellent answer which focuses on the proximity of the upcoming election. As they say, one of the primary reasons for skepticism is that it is extremely difficult to pass controversial legislation in general, but the difficulty skyrockets during an election year.

A reason that would make it possible in the first place would be the concept of windows of opportunity. These sorts of events create openings for legislation that has no chance of normally passing possible. A good example of this would be 9-11 and the anti-terror legislation that was passed in the immediate aftermath. The thing is, this window is only typically open for a very short period of time. This is why you see reports of activists becoming extremely worried about the possibility for change -- for example look at the defunding effort in Minnesota. Police accountability activists are rightfully worried that since nothing happened during the special session that was called, most likely there will not be significant reforms anytime soon (or that any eventual reforms will be much more muted than they could have been if passed immediately in the aftermath of George Floyd's death).

Simply put, there is a lot of momentum to do something immediately in the aftermath of a tragedy, particularly one that creates huge protest movements. But as time goes on, the urgency is diminished, the protests' size diminishes, and people move on to other topics and issues.

In that light I would compare the current situation to the aftermath of mass shootings. There is usually a lot of optimism (among people in favor of gun reform) that such events can spur meaningful gun control on the federal level. And there is evidence to suggest that such events leads people to be more supportive of gun control (on average). But if nothing passes in the near term after a mass shooting, you wouldn't expect it to pass long after the event has passed.

To take a specific example consider the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting (which occurred in Feb 2018). The question you ask now could be very similar to asking why there would be pessimism in March or April among gun control activists about the possibility for significant changes to federal gun control laws. The reason is very similar: if there was nothing passed in the immediate aftermath, why would it pass months or years later after the issue has completely fallen off the public's radar and people's attention has moved onto other things.

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    An the unfortunate thing is that every other year is an election year.
    – Barmar
    Jun 27, 2020 at 15:08

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