WASHINGTON (CNN) — Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky said Wednesday he is holding up popular bipartisan legislation to make lynching a federal crime, a long-sought goal of supporters that is acutely relevant now against the backdrop of nationwide protests against police mistreatment of African Americans.
“We want the bill to be stronger,” Paul told reporters on Capitol Hill. “We think that lynching is an awful thing that should be roundly condemned and should be universally condemned.”
He addressed the problems he sees with the bill, which passed the House in February on a 410-4 vote and that Senate supporters hoped to pass by unanimous consent until he objected.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea to conflate someone who has an altercation, where they had minor bruises, with lynching. We think that’s a disservice to those who were lynched in our history, who continue to have, we continue to have these problems. And I think it’s a disservice to have a new 10-year penalty for people who have minor bruising. We’ve tried to exclude that part from the bill, and we’ve been working with the authors to try to make the bill better,” Paul said.
“If you’re gonna call something an anti-lynching bill, but you’re gonna have a new conspiracy charge for someone who has minor bruising, we don’t think that’s appropriate. And someone has to read these bills and make sure they do what they say they’re going to do rather than it be just a big PR effort, and then everybody gets up in arms and wants to beat up anybody who wants to read the bill, and actually make the bill stronger,” he said.
“The bill as written would allow altercations resulting in a cut, abrasion, bruise, or any other injury no matter how temporary to be subject to a 10-year penalty. My amendment would simply apply a serious bodily injury standard, which would ensure crimes resulting in substantial risk of death and extreme physical pain be prosecuted as a lynching,” Paul explained further in a statement from his office later Wednesday.
Paul’s hold on the bill was first reported by National Journal.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer criticized Paul over the move on Wednesday, tweeting, “It is shameful that one GOP Senator is standing in the way of seeing this bill become law.”
The language of the House bill, which was named for Emmett Till, the 14-year-old murdered in Mississippi in 1955, is very similar to another anti-lynching bill that passed the Senate last year by unanimous consent. It was authored by the only three African Americans currently serving in the Senate, Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina and Democratic Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, also a Republican from Kentucky, could take procedural steps to overcome Paul’s objection and force a vote on the bill. But that could take up days of floor time. A McConnell aide did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The House could also take up the Senate-passed bill, the Justice for Victims of Lynching Act, and send it to President Donald Trump’s desk, but Democratic leaders there have expressed a desire for the Senate to pass their bill in order to keep Till’s name in the title.
The text of the House legislation outlines the violent and racist legacy of lynching in the United States and the many earlier, and unsuccessful, attempts to enact federal anti-lynching legislation into law.
“The crime of lynching succeeded slavery as the ultimate expression of racism in the United States following Reconstruction,” the bill states, adding that “at least 4,742 people, predominantly African Americans, were reported lynched in the United States between 1882 and 1968.”
The bill notes that “nearly 200 anti-lynching bills were introduced in Congress during the first half of the 20th century,” and “between 1890 and 1952, 7 presidents petitioned Congress to end lynching.”
The legislation states: “Only by coming to terms with history can the United States effectively champion human rights abroad.”