12/11/2018 12:40:00 PM McConnell agrees to criminal justice vote
WASHINGTON (AP) — Under pressure from President Donald Trump and many of his Republican colleagues, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that he will bring legislation to the floor to overhaul the nation’s sentencing laws.
McConnell’s decision comes after more than three years of overtures from a large, bipartisan group of senators who support the criminal justice bill, including Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley and House Speaker Paul Ryan. Trump announced his support for the legislation last month, but McConnell treaded cautiously and said the bill was among a number of competing priorities for the lame-duck session.
Texas Sen. John Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican, said Trump’s push for the legislation had been “critical to the outcome here.”
“Senator McConnell was always concerned about the small window of time that we have to do all these things we need to do, but the president was insistent that this be included,” he said.
If the legislation passes, it could be a rare bipartisan policy achievement for this Congress and the largest sentencing overhaul in decades.
Most Democrats support the bill, which would revise 1980s and ‘90s-era “tough on crime” laws to boost rehabilitation efforts for federal prisoners and give judges more discretion when sentencing nonviolent offenders, particularly for drug offenses. Supporters say the changes would make the nation’s criminal justice system fairer, reduce overcrowding in federal prisons and save taxpayer dollars.
The legislation has been a priority for Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who has worked behind the scenes with supportive Republican senators over the last two years and pushed Trump to support it. It was also a top issue for former President Barack Obama, who had hoped to see the bill become law before he left office.
Supporters have long said that the bill would pass if McConnell would just put it on the floor. McConnell said he was moving the bill as soon as this week “at the request of the president” and following improvements to the legislation. A revised bill makes some changes requested by Senate Republicans and law enforcement groups who had concerns it would be too soft on some offenders.