Strange bedfellows on criminal justice reform could offer Trump a legislative win

Strange bedfellows on criminal justice reform could offer Trump a legislative win
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In a sharply-divided Washington, D.C., where even with Republicans in charge of both houses of Congress and the White House, nothing seems to be getting done, including the long-promised repeal and replace of Obamacare, and long talked about tax reform. But even as most of the items at the top of the Republicans’ agenda seem stalled, at least for the moment, there is one thing that has bipartisan support and could perhaps bring President Trump a much-needed legislative victory.

Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyGOP senators eager for Romney to join them Five hurdles to a big DACA and border deal Grand jury indicts Maryland executive in Uranium One deal: report MORE (R-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is one of several GOP senators who backs reforms to the current system. He joins Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeNSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle With religious liberty memo, Trump made America free to be faithful again This week: Time running out for Congress to avoid shutdown MORE (R-Utah), Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamDHS chief takes heat over Trump furor Overnight Defense: GOP chair blames Dems for defense budget holdup | FDA, Pentagon to speed approval of battlefield drugs | Mattis calls North Korea situation 'sobering' Bipartisan group to introduce DACA bill in House MORE (R-S.C.), Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeMcCain rips Trump for attacks on press Bipartisan group to introduce DACA bill in House Flake's anti-Trump speech will make a lot of noise, but not much sense MORE (R-Ariz.), Sen. Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottSchumer: 'I totally believe' Durbin over Trump Graham: 'It's pretty embarrassing' when children can't listen to the news Durbin spokesman: GOP senators have ‘credibility problem’ MORE (R-S.C.) and Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntGOP senators eager for Romney to join them Senate GOP wary of ending Russia probes, despite pressure GOP on precipice of major end-of-year tax victory MORE (R-Mo.) along with Democratic Sens. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinMcCarthy: ‘No deadline on DACA’ Ex-Sheriff David Clarke: Trump only one who 'cares about black American citizens' DHS chief takes heat over Trump furor MORE (Ill.), Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseSenate Finance Dems want more transparency on trade from Trump Trump, Kushner meet with advocates on prison reform Democrats search for Russians — any Russians — for collusion story MORE (R.I.), Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyNSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle McConnell to Dems: Don't hold government 'hostage' over DACA Nielsen acknowledges Trump used 'tough language' in immigration meeting MORE (Vt.), Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerDHS chief takes heat over Trump furor Booker to Nielsen: 'Your silence and your amnesia is complicity' Homeland Security secretary grilled over Trump comments MORE (N.J.) and Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinDHS chief takes heat over Trump furor NSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle Democrats will need to explain if they shut government down over illegal immigration MORE (Calif.) in renewed bipartisan calls for reforms to the criminal justice system.

The bipartisan group of lawmakers support the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2017, which seeks to reduce sentencing for prior drug offenses, reduce the current mandatory minimum sentences, and help recently released inmates reintegrate into society and become productive citizens.

Lawmakers from both sides arrive at the same conclusion based on different reasons. However, what truly matters to voters is that they can, at least, arrive at the same conclusion.


Grassley introduced the bill in the Senate on Oct. 4. The Iowa Republican said the bill “ensures that these consequences fit their crimes by targeting violent and career criminals who prey on the innocent while giving nonviolent offenders with minimal criminal histories a better chance to become productive members of society.” Grassley added that the legislation “strikes the right balance of improving public safety and ensuring fairness in the criminal justice system.”

Democrats, like Booker, argue that the legislation prevents minorities and the poor from being “disproportionally affected” by what Leahy described as “ineffective and draconian mandatory minimum sentences.”

“The mass incarceration explosion of the last 40 years has cost taxpayers billions of dollars, held back our economy, undermined public safety, disproportionately affected communities of color and the poor, and devalued the very idea of justice in America,” Booker said. “The bipartisan Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act is a critically important and urgently needed step forward to help right these wrongs.”

Booker is right. The U.S. prison population is among the highest in the world, with an estimated 6,741,400 inmates in federal, state and local prisons at the end of 2015, according to a Dec. 29, 2016 press release from the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

According to the ACLU, the U.S. was the “world’s largest jailer” in 2014. Despite being home to just five percent of the global population, the U.S. inmate population accounted for 20 percent of the world’s total incarceration population during that year.

It’s a trend that has been rising steadily for decades. Between 1980 and 2014, the population of inmates in the U.S. increased 408 percent. Meanwhile, the violent crime rate in the U.S. has steadily declined since 1980, with the exception of a slight uptick in violent crime during the early to mid-1990s, Business Insider reported.

The issue of criminal justice reform is one of the few in Washington that could bring lawmakers from both sides of the aisle together to potentially pass landmark reforms, though it’s unclear whether Trump and Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsSessions: 'We should be like Canada' in how we take in immigrants DOJ wades into archdiocese fight for ads on DC buses Overnight Cybersecurity: Bipartisan bill aims to deter election interference | Russian hackers target Senate | House Intel panel subpoenas Bannon | DHS giving 'active defense' cyber tools to private sector MORE, who generally support stricter sentences, would support the legislation.

Yet, without the repeal of ObamaCare, and with the prospects for tax reform in question, the administration would be smart to embrace criminal justice reform as one significant legislative victory potentially within its reach.

Jon Street is a former assistant editor for The Blaze and the former Vermont Bureau Chief for The Franklin Center's"