WASHINGTON (AP) — Sometimes, lawmakers in Congress concoct amendments that are so politically devastating to the rival party that they provoke terror, fury or grudging admiration.
Tuesday night, a proposal by Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville did not do that.
Instead, the Alabama freshman’s attempt to embarrass Democrats on the issue of defunding the police induced an animated Sen. Cory Booker to sarcastically thank Tuberville for a political “gift.”
Growing more theatrical and warming to his task as he spoke, the New Jersey Democrat said he wanted to “walk over there and hug my colleague” but wouldn’t in deference to the Senate’s tradition of decorum.
Tuberville began the two-minute exchange by offering an amendment Tuesday evening to Democrats’ $3.5 trillion budget resolution outlining their party’s and President Joe Biden’s domestic agenda. The non-binding language suggested cutting federal aid to municipalities that defund the police.
“Local leaders across the country have decided the woke thing to do is cancel their city’s police force,” said Tuberville, a former college football coach in his first seven months in Congress. “My amendment is pretty simple. If your city council wants to defund their police, don’t expect the federal government to make up the difference.”
In case his point was missed, Tuberville said opposing his amendment was a vote against “the men and women in blue.”
Defunding the police became a progressive battle cry in a year of nationwide in protests against racial injustice over the death of George Floyd and other black Americans killed by law enforcement. The idea has been rejected by all but the most left-leaning congressional Democrats, but Republicans frequently accuse them of backing proposals to gut police budgets anyway.
“Thank God,” responded Booker, himself a former college tight end but with years as a mayor, senator and unsuccessful presidential contender.
Booker said Tuberville has “given us the gift that finally, once and for all, we can put to bed the scurrilous accusations that somebody in this great esteemed body would want to defund the police.”
Thumping his desk with his fist, he said Tuberville’s amendment should also state that every senator also “believes in God, country and apple pie.”
Tuberville’s amendment passed 99-0 as Democrats leapt at a chance to cast a vote they could use to argue they’re against police defunding. Minutes earlier, Booker predicted witheringly that Tuberville’s proposal would ensure there would be no more Republican ads attacking Democrats on the issue.
If there was any confusion on that point, though, the office of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., issued a statement later clearing things up.
“Democrats are still the party of defunding the police,” it said.
Despite the Republican talking points, defunding the police doesn’t necessarily mean gutting police budgets. Supporters say it isn’t about eliminating police departments or stripping agencies of all of their money and instead say it is time for the country to address systemic problems in policing and spend more on what communities across the U.S. need, like housing and education.