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Tim Scott Says Dick Durbin's 'Token' Comment 'Hurts My Soul'

Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill to announce a Republican police reform bill on June 17.
Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill to announce a Republican police reform bill on June 17.

Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., gave an emotional speech on the Senate floor Wednesday, commemorating the five-year anniversary of the shooting at Emanuel AME Church in his home state and lambasting a Democratic colleague for referring to his police reform bill as "token" legislation.

Senate Republicans, led by Scott, unveiled the Justice Act Wednesday morning, which would make lynching a federal hate crime, incentivize police departments to ban chokeholds, increase disclosure requirements regarding the use of force and include emergency grant programs for body cameras.

Scott, the Senate's only black GOP member, was referring to a comment made by Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who called the Republican-backed proposal a "token, half-hearted approach."

"To call this a token process hurts my soul for my country, for our people," Scott said.

"To think that the concept of anti-lynching as a part of this legislation to be considered a token piece of legislation because perhaps I'm African American, I'm the only one on this side of the aisle, I don't know what he meant, but I can tell you that this day, to have those comments again hurts the soul," Scott said.

Scott has pushed back against this type of language before but said this comment particularly stung because of the significance of the day - five years after a white supremacist murdered nine worshipers at a historic church in Charleston.

Scott said he believes although there's good intention on both sides of the aisle, some of his colleagues are playing politics instead of committing to a productive conversation on police reform.

"We would rather have a conversation about tearing this country apart, making it a binary choice between law enforcement and communities of color instead of working for the American people, bringing the reforms to the table so that we have a chance to balance this nation and direct her towards due north," Scott said.

Emily Hampsten, Durbin's communications director, said Durbin has since apologized to Scott.

"The minute Sen. Durbin heard that he had offended Sen. Scott, he sought him out on the floor and apologized," she said. "What Sen. Durbin took issue with in his floor speech was not Sen. Scott's bill, but that the Senate Majority Leader would short circuit this critical debate and fail to make the changes needed to prevent the killing of Black Americans by police officers."

Durbin also called Scott a friend during his floor speech Wednesday morning, saying, "When he was chosen on the Republican side to lead the effort to come up with some way of bringing justice to policing, I thought that's a good choice and I still do."

Scott's floor speech followed another tense exchange on Capitol Hill that ended up in a shouting match between Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., and Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla.

During a House Judiciary Committee hearing on police reform, Richmond remarked on his frustration over Republican colleagues introducing additional amendments, including measures on Antifa.

"As a black male...who was a victim of excessive force, who has a black son, who has worries that you all don't — and to my colleagues, especially the ones that keep introducing amendments that are a tangent and a distraction to what we are talking about, you all are white males. You've never lived in my shoes and you do not know what it is like to be an African-American male," Richmond said.

"I wanted to be crystal clear, and I will give you the benefit of the doubt that it is unconscious bias that I'm hearing, because at worst it's conscious bias," Richmond said.

Gaetz then interrupted and asked if Richmond was suggesting that no Republicans have non-white children and therefore can't understand his concerns of white supremacy and police brutality.

"Matt, Matt, stop. I'm not about to get sidetracked about the color of our children," Richmond said. "I already know that there are people on the other side who have black grandchildren. It is not about the color of your kids. It is about black males, black people in the streets that are getting killed and if one of them happens to be your kid, I'm concerned about him, too. And clearly, I'm more concerned about him than you are. So let's be clear about that."

Gaetz then began yelling, saying, "Who the hell do you think you are?"

Richmond concluded by responding to criticism that Democrats drafted their bill without consultation from Republicans.

"You all were in charge for a while. We've been in charge for a while. I have been singing the same song since 1991," he said. "We saw what was just presented in the Senate. It was a watered-down bill."

Richmond says the issues at hand represent a critical emergency for the country and "it's time to vote it up or down."

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