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GOP Senator Rand Paul Seeks Changes To Emmett Till Antilynching Act

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

An anti-lynching bill with overwhelming bipartisan support has stalled due to the objections of Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul. NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis reports on the intense debate it provoked among senators.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: New Jersey Democratic Senator Cory Booker and Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul are friends. The two have worked together for years to reform the criminal justice system. But on Thursday, a disagreement over a stalled anti-lynching bill provoked an intense disagreement on the Senate floor.

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CORY BOOKER: And now one man - and I do not question his motives because I know his heart - one man - one man is standing in the way of the law of the land changing.

DAVIS: The bill expands current laws against lynching and would specify the act of lynching as a federal hate crime for the first time. The House passed the bill in February with just four votes against it. The Senate passed a similar bill in 2019 with unanimous support. But they need to pass it again to get it signed into law. Paul supports the bill, but he objected because he wants to narrow it. His interpretation of the bill is that it's too broad and could result in putting people in prison for up to 10 years for lesser offenses.

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RAND PAUL: This is exactly what we've been fighting about in criminal justice reform, that we set up a system we didn't pay attention to the penalties. And all the sudden, things we didn't intended to happen. So we have to be smart about this.

DAVIS: Booker said Paul was being overly legalistic, noting that the bill has been vetted and supported by virtually every member of this ideologically polarized Congress. The fact that it was happening on the day of George Floyd's memorial service in Minneapolis made the disagreement all the more personal for Booker.

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BOOKER: Of all days that we're doing this right now, having this discussion when - God - if this bill passed today, what that would mean for America that this body and that body have now finally agreed.

DAVIS: Paul's objections stood. The bill still awaits Senate passage. Susan Davis, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.