Jun 4, 2020
Emotional Debate Transcript on Anti-Lynching Bill with Rand Paul, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker
Senators Rand Paul, Kamala Harris, and Cory Booker got into a heated and emotional debate on the Senate floor over an anti-lynching bill. Senator Paul explained why he is holding up popular bipartisan legislation to make lynching a federal crime.
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Sen. Rand Paul: (00:00)
I ask unanimous consent that the Senate proceed to legislative session for a period of morning business, with the senators permitted to speak their end for up to 10 minutes each.
Is there objection? Without objection.
Sen. Rand Paul: (00:12)
Mr. President, I rise to ask expedited passage of H.R.35, the Emmett Till Anti-lynching Act, as amended. I seek to amend this legislation, not because I take it or I take lynching lightly, but because I take it seriously, and this legislation does not. Lynching is a tool of terror that claimed the lives of nearly 5,000 Americans between 1881 and 1968. But this bill would cheapen the meaning of lynching by defining it so broadly as to include a minor bruise or abrasion. Our nation’s history of racial terrorism demands more seriousness from us than that. W. E. B Du Bois wrote in his autobiography about the 1899 lynching of Sam Hose in Georgia.
Sen. Rand Paul: (01:03)
Du Bois wrote that after the lynching, Hose’s knuckles were viewed on display at a store in Mitchell Street in Atlanta. His liver and heart were even presented to the governor of Georgia as a souvenir. Sickening, grotesque, the images of lynching. In 1931, Raymond Gunn was lynched in Maryville, Missouri. The spectacle group drew a crowd of almost 4,000 people, including, if you can believe it, women and their children. In the tragedy of lynching, the author writes that one woman even held her little girl up so high, so she could better see the victim who was, quote, blazing on the roof. Sickening and grotesque, these images. In the summer of 1955, 14-year-old Emmett Till was visiting family in Money, Mississippi, when he went to a country store and bought some candy. While in there, he was accused of flirting with a white woman. And for that offense, Emmett Till was kidnapped in the middle of the night and bludgeoned so badly that afterwards his body was unrecognizable.
Sen. Rand Paul: (02:13)
He could only be identified by the ring he was wearing. After seeing her son’s remains, his mother insisted on an open-casket funeral, so the whole world could see what the killers had done to her son. We must remember the murders of Emmett Till, Raymond Gunn, Sam Hose, and the thousands of others whose lives were destroyed by the barbarity of the lynch mob. But this bill will not do that. This bill would expand the meaning of lynching to include any bodily injury, including a cut, an abrasion, or a bruise. Physical pain, illness, or any other injury to the body, no matter how temporary. Mr. President, words have meaning. It would be a disgrace for the Congress of the United States to declare that a bruise is lynching, that an abrasion is lynching, that any injury to the body, no matter how temporary, is on par with the atrocities done to people like Emmett Till, Raymond Gunn, and Sam Hose, who were killed for no reason, but because they were black. To do that would demean their memory and cheapen the historic and horrific legacy of lynching in our country.
Sen. Rand Paul: (03:29)
As Congressman Amash stated, “To be clear, the bill does not make lynching a new federal hate crime. Murdering someone on account of their race or conspiring to do so is now illegal under federal law. It’s already a federal crime and it’s already a hate crime.” He’s right. We have had federal hate crime statutes for over 50 years, and it has been a federal hate crime to murder someone because of their race for over a decade. Additionally, murder is already a crime in 50 states. In fact, rather than consider a good-intentioned but symbolic bill, the Senate could immediately consider addressing qualified immunity and ending police militarization. We can and must do better.
Sen. Rand Paul: (04:22)
That is why no one in the Senate has been more involved in criminal justice reform than I have. No one has introduced more criminal justice reform bills. In my time in the Senate, I have authored or cosponsored at least 22 unique criminal justice reform bills. I am acutely aware of the injustices perpetrated year in and year out in our cities. But reform needs to be more than window dressing. That is why I’m on the floor today to offer expedited passage. Pass it today. The Emmett Till Anti-lynching Bill, as amended. Lynching is a particularly vicious kind of murder, and a federal law should treat it as such. For these reasons, the Emmett Till Anti-lynching Act should be adopted with my amendment, which would apply the criminal penalties for lynching only, and not for other crimes. Thank you, Mr. President.
Sen. Rand Paul: (05:27)
Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the Senate proceed to the immediate consideration of H.R.35, which received by the House. I ask unanimous consent that my amendment at the desk be agreed to, the bill as amended be considered, read a third time and passed, and that the motion to reconsider be considered made and laid upon the table.
Is there objection?
Sen. Kamala Harris: (05:49)
Reserving the right to object.
The Senator for California.
Sen. Kamala Harris: (05:55)
The idea that we would not be taking the issue of lynching seriously is an insult, an insult to Senator Booker, to Senator Tim Scott and myself, and all of the senators past and present who have understood this is part of the great stain of America’s history. To suggest that anything short of pulverizing someone so much that the casket would otherwise be closed, except for the heroism and courage of Emmett Till’s mother. To suggest that lynching would only be a lynching if someone’s heart was pulled out and produced and displayed to someone else, is ridiculous. And on this day, the day of George Floyd’s funeral. On this day, a day that should be a day of national mourning.
Sen. Kamala Harris: (06:58)
Mr. President, in 2018, the Senate unanimously passed bi-partisan anti-lynching legislation, which I proudly introduced with the only other black members of this body, Senator Cory Booker and Senator Tim Scott. It was a historic moment. It marked the first time in the history of our country that federal anti-lynching legislation had been passed by the United States Senate. It passed again by unanimous consent in 2019. Senator Paul is now trying to weaken a bill that was already passed. There’s no reason for this. There’s no reason for this. Senator Paul’s amendment would place a greater burden on victims of lynching than is currently required under federal hate crimes laws.
Sen. Kamala Harris: (07:54)
There is no reason for this. There is no reason other than cruel and deliberate obstruction on a day of mourning. On this very day, at this very hour, there is a memorial service to honor the life of George Floyd, who was murdered on a sidewalk by a police officer with a knee on his neck. For eight minutes and 46 seconds, George Floyd plead for his life, called for his late mother, and said he could not breathe. The pain experienced not only by that man, that human being and his family and his children, but the pain of the people of America witnessing what we have witnessed since the founding of this country, which is that black lives have not been taken seriously as being fully human and deserving of dignity. And it should not require a-
Senator Kamala Harris: (09:03)
… dignity and it should not require a maiming or torture in order for us to recognize a lynching when we see it and recognize it by federal law and call it what it is, which is that it is a crime that should be punishable with accountability and consequence. So it is remarkable and it is painful to be standing here right now, especially when people of all races are marching in the streets of America, outraged by the hate and the violence and the murder that has been fueled by racism during the span of this country’s life.
Senator Kamala Harris: (09:43)
And America is raw right now, her wounds exposed raw from the fact that in the history of our country, black people have been treated as less than human. I stood here with Senator Booker when we first proposed this lynching law, and we talked about the pain and the history of the pain of this issue in America. The fact is that the country is raw because America has never fully addressed the historic and systemic racism that has existed in our country. Our bill in its current form is an opportunity. It’s an opportunity for this body to acknowledge the seriousness of this, to acknowledge that if someone places a noose over someone’s else’s neck, why would you require that? In addition, their heart would be pulled out or their body pulverized to the point beyond recognition. Our bill is an opportunity to right, a wrong and an opportunity for a reckoning in federal law. We cannot pretend that lynchings are a thing of the past.
Senator Kamala Harris: (11:05)
Ahmed Aubrey was a victim of a modern day lynching. He was murdered on February 23rd, 2020, just three months ago. Today, we learned that someone heard one of the men who killed Mr. Aubrey use a racial slur after shooting him. He should be alive today and his killers should be brought to justice, no longer should the crime of lynching go unpunished. No longer should victims and their families go without justice. In closing Ida B. Wells, once said, quote, “our country’s national crime is lynching. It is not the creature of an hour. The sudden outburst of uncontrolled fury or the unspeakable brutality of an insane mob. It represents the cue calculating deliberation of intelligent people who openly avow that there is an unwritten law that justifies them and putting human beings to death without complaint under oath, without trial by jury, without opportunity to make a defense and without right of appeal.”
Senator Kamala Harris: (12:26)
Our country has waited too long for a reckoning on this issue of lynching. I believe no senator should stop the full weight of the law in its capacity to protect these human beings and human life. Senator Booker and I are working on a comprehensive bill to address this hurt and the tragedy at the heart of this national day of mourning. I object to Senator Paul’s efforts to weaken our legislation. I yield the floor.
Speaker 1: (12:57)
What’s your objection to Senator Paul’s request.
Sen. Cory Booker: (12:58)
Reserving the right to object Mr. President.
Speaker 1: (13:00)
Senator for New Jersey.
Sen. Cory Booker: (13:02)
Thank you very much, sir. I want to thank Senator Harris for her words and I want to thank her as the lead Senator on this bill. I want to thank her for her partnership and leadership. I also want to thank Senator Tim Scott from South Carolina, who has shown extraordinary commitment to this legislation as well. I want to thank on the house side. I want to thank Bobby Rush former black Panther. I want to thank him for his leadership and generational commitment to racial justice in America. I also want to recognize the tireless advocacy of Airickca Gordon-Taylor, who is actual relative of Emmett Till and the founder of Mamie Till Mobley foundation.
Sen. Cory Booker: (14:04)
She was here the last time this bill was before this body. She’s dead now. I know she’s looking down and hoping that we don’t disappoint her. Mr. President in February of 2019, this body did something historic. I don’t mean to be emotional, I’m raw this week, but I stood here with Kamala and we wept. We talked about the hundreds of years over a century, excuse me, of effort to pass legislation brought up and defeated time and time again in this body by avowed segregationists and how proud I was that at a time, when the partisanship is high in this country. We gathered together in one voice, 100 senators to pass this exact same bill, because there are good people in this body on both sides. We were correcting a wrong of history and nobody in this body needs a lecture on lynching and how horrible it is.
Sen. Cory Booker: (15:28)
Every body in this body, abhors racism and believes that this violence is unjust. There are friends of mine here, unanimously. We pass that legislation. We made history on this floor and this is why I’m confused because this bill has been passed unanimously. And here we’re on a day of a memorial service for another person, whose murder was condemned by people on both sides of the aisle. I’ve sat where you sat Mr. President and watch the differences between the Republican leader and the democratic leader. I don’t go back that long in this body, but I’ve watched Harry Reed and Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer disagree so deeply time and time again. But God, we came together and passed the bill unanimously. Mitch McConnell, let that bill come to this floor. Didn’t try to block it.
Sen. Cory Booker: (16:34)
My colleague over there Rand Paul was one of the first hands I shook on this Senate floor. He is my friend. And everything he said about his commitment to criminal justice reform, it is right. One of the first bills I wrote here, I wrote with Rand Paul. And then he went further at another time like this, when America was raw, when another black man unarmed was shot. He went as far in Time Magazine to stand up and talk openly about the ProPublica data, about a black man in America, being about 100 times, if not more likely to be shot by the police than someone white and he said… He’s shaking his head, if I may recognize. He said that there must be something more going on here if it’s that much. So I do not question the sincerity of his convictions. I’ve had too many conversations with him to question his heart. But I am so raw today of all days that we’re doing this, 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…
Sen. Cory Booker: (18:03)
What that would mean for America, that this body and that body have now finally agreed? Because I know when Congressman White, the last black person to serve in Congress before the fall, the god-awful fall, of the backlash after Reconstruction fell, he gave this famous speech where he talked about the phoenix will rise, that one day black people will serve in this body and here we are, in the Senate, making history, the first time three African-Americans have even served together, Republican and Democrat, and we all came together, leading on Kamala’s bill, and there’s something about us that we knew, that it was something more than the legalistic issues that my colleague now wants to bring up, that we are a nation that needed this historic healing, and that if we pass this, it would not only do something substantive to make a difference on the books of the American federal system but God, it would speak volumes to the racial pain and the hurt of generations. I do not need my colleague, the senator of Kentucky, to tell me about one lynching in this country. I’ve stood in the museum in Montgomery, Alabama and watched African-American families weeping at the stories of pregnant women lynched in this country and their babies ripped out of them. While this body did nothing.
Sen. Cory Booker: (19:43)
I can hear the screams as this body and membership can of the unanswered cries for justice of our ancestors. Every one of us is sensitive to that anguish. Every one of us is sensitive to that pain, as is the senator from Kentucky, and this week, the senator from Kentucky mentioned the colleague Justin –
Speaker 3: (20:08)
Sen. Cory Booker: (20:09)
Amash. I want to tell my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, he was one of only four congressmen of a 435 body to vote against the anti-lynching bill. That means that this bill was supported by the leader of the Democrats, the Speaker of the House, it was supported by the leader of the Republicans, the whip of the Republicans, the whip of the Democrats, 400+ votes supported this. My colleague thinks that this bill is wrong. If this bill is wrong, then the Republican leadership of the House is wrong. If this bill is wrong, then the Democratic leadership of the House is wrong. If this bill is wrong, 99 senators are wrong. If this bill is wrong, then the NAACP is wrong. If this bill is wrong, then the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights is wrong. If this bill is wrong, then the Urban League of America is wrong.
Sen. Cory Booker: (21:14)
Legal organizations, civil rights organizations, Democrats and Republicans, tell me another time when 500+ congresspeople, Democrats, Republicans, House members, and senators come together in a chorus of conviction and say now is the time in America that we condemn the dark history of our past and actually pass anti-lynching legislation, 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. Because of a difference of interpretation, this doesn’t talk about bruising someone, it’s a difference of interpretation.
Sen. Cory Booker: (22:10)
Does America need a win today on racial justice? Does the anguished cries of people in the streets? I’ve had children break down with me this week wondering if this would be a country that values their lives as much as white people’s lives? I’ve had to explain to grown men this week that there’s still hope in America, that we can make change in America, that we can grow and heal in America, that we can make this a more perfect union. Well today is a day we can do it. One thing, one member, to yield for once, like he did in February of 2019, yield for one day and give America this win. Let us pass this piece of legislation today of all days. Let’s give a headline tomorrow of something that will give hope to this country, that we can get it right. It may not cure the ills that so many are protesting about but God, it can be a sign of hope. So Mr. President, I object to this amendment. I object, I object, I object on so substance, I object on the law, and from my heart and spirit and every fiber of my being, I object for my ancestors.
Speaker 4: (23:50)
Objection is heard.
Sen. Rand Paul: (23:53)
Speaker 4: (23:54)
The senator for Kentucky.
Sen. Rand Paul: (23:57)
I think it’s important to know and to let the record show that I’ve been working with Senator Booker’s office for three months on the amendment to this bill that I’m willing to have unanimous passage of the bill today, but I think it’s incredibly important that we get this right. A woman in New Jersey, a black woman in New Jersey, assaulted three Jewish women and slapped them. It was terrible and she uttered racial epithets about these Jewish women. She was charged with third degree misdemeanor assault up to a year in prison, which actually sounds to me pretty significant for slapping, but she was then charged with a hate crime in addition to that that would be four years in addition. So we do have to get this right. If slapping someone and hurling a racial epithet could get you 10 years in prison, 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 of a sudden, things we didn’t intend happen. So we have to be smart about this. I’m willing to pass the bill today, as amended, which would simply say not that you even have to harm someone, you have to attempt to harm them, but it has to be an attempt to harm them.
Sen. Rand Paul: (25:12)
So all of the discussion about bruising while trying to lynch someone, yes that’s attempted murder, it would be covered by this bill. Nothing in the bill would stop, would prevent the prosecution of heinous behavior. That’s what it’s intended for. What I’m intending is … What I’m trying to do is to make sure we don’t get unintended consequences. We’ve fought the battle against mandatory minimums for a decade now because we tie up people in sentencing that makes no sense. 10 years for slapping someone would be an abomination and it couldn’t happen to anyone. Do we want a black woman who slapped three Jewish women in New Jersey to get 10 years in prison? If there was a group of them, it’s now a conspiracy to lynch. We have to use some common sense here. We should not have a 10-year prison sentence for anything less than at the very least an attempt to do bodily harm. The statute lists what bodily harm is, but it could still be an attempt, it doesn’t mean you actually have to have it, but what it would preclude is somebody shoves somebody in a bar and they fall down and they have an abrasion and they say he did it because of a racial animus towards me, and you have a 10-year penalty, that’s not right.
Sen. Rand Paul: (26:26)
So all of us here are advocates on the same side of criminal justice reform, we all have argued on the same side that the law is screwed up, and has incarcerated too many people unfairly. That’s what I’m trying to prevent here, and so the thing is is I understand the emotions on it. You think I take great joy in being here? No. I’m a sponsor of 22 criminal justice bills. You think I’m getting any good publicity out of this? No, I will be excoriated by simple-minded people on the internet who think somehow I don’t like Emmett Till or appreciate the history and the memory of Emmett Till. I’ll be lectured to by everybody and I’ve got no right
Sen. Rand Paul: (27:03)
… in the memory of Emmett Till. I’ll be lectured to by everybody. I’ve got no right to have an opinion on any of these things. I should be quiet. But we can’t just not read our bills. You know, I have worked in an honest way with Senator Booker’s office for three months on this bill. We have gone back and forth. We gave them some language. They came back to us and said it wouldn’t work. And I said, “Well, what about this?” And then we haven’t gotten any more responses.
Sen. Rand Paul: (27:25)
So we haven’t gotten responses back in a month or more, and the thing is, is now they’re litigating in the press and trying to accuse me of somehow being in favor of something so heinous that it makes my skin crawl, that it makes me sick to my stomach to even read the accounts of what happened.
Sen. Rand Paul: (27:41)
But we also ought to be fair and honest about this. Lynching is illegal. People who are saying there’s no federal law against lynching or not telling the truth. The law says, if you kill somebody and you have racial animus under the Hate Crime statute, it is illegal. You can’t do that. It’s also illegal in all the states. This bill does not make lynching illegal. So for all the discussion of that, this bill creates a new crime called conspiracy to lynch. Well, yeah, I’m for it. If there’s a crowd, let’s arrest of the whole mob. All four policemen should be responsible for what happened to Mr. Floyd.
Sen. Rand Paul: (28:18)
But the thing is, is when we do that, we have to be careful that we don’t then put a crowd of people in where someone pushed into someone or someone slapped someone. There has to be justice. People are chanting justice. Justice has to have a brain and has to have vision and can’t be hamstrung into something that could give someone 10 years in prison for a minor crime.
Sen. Rand Paul: (28:39)
This is a very minor attempt. Everything we left in here, we have worked with Senator Booker’s office to make sure it is inclusive. They came back and said, “What about attempted?” And we said, “Let’s change the language.” So we have in there, “attempt to cause seriously bodily harm.” So there could be no injury, but someone will have to have a discussion of whether there was an attempt and it was an attempt that looked like it would be serious.
Sen. Rand Paul: (29:01)
So I think slapping someone isn’t, but under the current statute, as is, people will say, “Oh, nobody will ever do it.” Maybe, but we’re putting it on the books. The mandatory minimums have kept people in jail for decades. There are people in life for nonviolent crimes. All of us have worked on the same side of that issue.
Sen. Rand Paul: (29:18)
I’m asking for a very minor change. I’ll pass it right now. I’m completely out of the way. I’m for the bill. I’m asking unanimous consent to pass a bill today with one amendment that just says, let’s be careful not to arrest people for slapping someone or not to arrest somebody for pushes into someone and get them 10 years in prison.
Sen. Rand Paul: (29:38)
This isn’t about someone trying to kill another person or someone attempting bodily harm. Those people would be included in this language, even if they did not have a mark on the person, but if they were rounding them up, tying them up, and they’d thrown a rope over the tree, that’s attempted murder. And they would still be included under this bill, even without a mark on them.
Sen. Rand Paul: (29:59)
But what we have to preclude and what we’re trying to preclude is that the bill doesn’t get used for the wrong purposes. We’re all on the same side about who we want to punish and who we should prevent. And we’re also on the same side on the symbolism of this, but we can’t pass laws that do exactly what all of us have said is wrong with our penal system, all the unintended consequences.
Sen. Rand Paul: (30:19)
There is one here and I ask in a very polite way, and I’ve been asking for three months for one small change, and I would let the bill go today, on this day, if we could have it. And the changes have been out there. They’re not brand new and they’ve been in Senator Booker’s office for three months and we’ve tried to, as he’s had objections, work with him on his objections. So I would ask unanimous consent, once again, to pass the bill as amended.
Sen. Cory Booker: (30:45)
Speaker 7: (30:47)
Is this there objection?
Sen. Cory Booker: (30:49)
Reserving the right to object, Mr. President.
Speaker 7: (30:51)
The Senator for Virginia or New Jersey. The Senate, New Jersey.
Sen. Cory Booker: (30:58)
Thank you. No, thank you very much, Mr. President. This is a bill that’s already passed this body. Same bill, same language. There’s no objection there. Only four members of the House of Representatives objected. Same bill, same language. I’ve heard this objection. We disagree with this. The truth of the matter is what’s being proposed is not just opposed by me, but our Republican colleagues who are sponsoring this bill in this body oppose these corrections as well.
Sen. Cory Booker: (31:44)
In addition to that, changes to this bill now would send it back to the House of Representatives. This is a tactic that will send this bill back over to the House where again, it would have to be voted on. This idea that somehow someone would be brought up on lynching charges for a slapping is absurd, especially as you see how hate crime legislation, how difficult that is even to prove.
Sen. Cory Booker: (32:13)
And so I am deeply disappointed by the objections we’ve heard that were not made manifest last year, in 2019, but somehow seem to be stopping it in 2020. And so I object with this prediction. We, as a body, will correct historic ills and pass lynching legislation through this body, through the House of Representatives. One day in this nation, this legislation will pass, and perhaps it’ll have to wait until I’m not here, until Senator Paul’s not here, unless he decides to go back to the 2019 Senator Paul.
Sen. Cory Booker: (32:57)
And the question is, is what side of history will we ultimately be on? I pray that it happens in this Congress. I pray that the President signs legislation against lynching. How historic that would be, but today it is not going to happen, obviously. And I’m telling you right now, this celebration will come. This moment in American history will come.
Sen. Cory Booker: (33:26)
And the frustrating thing for me is, at a time that this country hungers for common sense, racial reconciliation, and acknowledgement of our past, and a looking forward to the better future, that this will be one of the sad days where that possibility was halted. But as we all know, one of the great leaders that Republicans and Democrats all hail asked that question, how long will it take?
Sen. Cory Booker: (33:57)
And the simple answer is not long because the truth crushed the earth will rise again, not long, because you reap what you sow, not long because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice. We will pass this legislation. I pray that the members of this body as we are right now are the ones to do it.