U.S. Senate defeats bid to stop military equipment transfers to police

Schatz speaks during Facebook digital currency hearing

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate defeated a bid on Tuesday to bar the transfer from the military of tear gas, armored vehicles and other weaponry to local police, despite concern over their use during anti-racism protests across the United States.

The 51-49 vote in favor of the amendment to bar such transfers fell short of the 60 votes needed to advance. Only a handful of Republicans joined Democrats in backing the measure.

"Our communities are not battlefields. The American people are not enemy combatants," said Democratic Senator Brian Schatz, who offered the measure as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA.

Republicans and Democrats have been sparring over how best to respond to protests that have swept the country - and world - in response to the killing of George Floyd, a Black American, while in the custody of police in Minneapolis.

Republican President Donald Trump said he plans to send federal law enforcement to more Democratic-led U.S. cities, as a federal crackdown on protesters in Portland by camouflage-clad agents in unmarked vehicles has angered people across the country.

Republican Senator James Inhofe strongly opposed Schatz's amendment, calling the weapons transfer system an effective use of taxpayer money and noting its support by police departments.

"We need to be continuing this transparent, responsive program," he said.

Inhofe, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, introduced a competing amendment, which was approved 90-10, to impose more conditions on transfers but not block them outright.

It also would require de-escalation and constitutional rights training for police officers.

The Inhofe amendment is several steps from becoming law. It would have to remain in the NDAA, a sweeping bill setting policy for the Pentagon, until a final version comes before Congress later this year and be signed into law by Trump.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Tom Brown)