Senate

Cotton opposes Trump-backed criminal justice bill

Greg Nash
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said Friday that he will not support criminal justice reform legislation despite President Trump’s endorsement of the effort. 

 
Cotton — who has opposed previous, broader versions of the legislation — argued that the newly introduced legislation would result in the “early release for dangerous, repeat felons.” 
 

“Unfortunately, the new text of this legislation reveals that what started as a prison-reform effort has transformed into sentencing reductions and early-release for dangerous, repeat felons, and I therefore cannot support this bill,” Cotton said in a statement. 

 
{mosads}Cotton’s opposition to the legislation, which would pair a House-passed prison reform bill with four sentencing reform measures, isn’t a surprise.
 
He was one of four then-senators who vocally opposed a broader criminal justice bill spearheaded by Grassley and Durbin in the previous Congress. 
 

Cotton said in a tweet Thursday that the Judiciary Committee should hold a hearing on the legislation, in what supporters viewed as an attempt to delay the bill.

 
And he published a USA Today op-ed this week writing that “so-called ‘criminal-justice reform’ … is just a misguided effort to let serious felons out of prison.” 
 
A White House official said this week that Cotton had been an “ally” to the president on other issues but they believed they could get the votes needed to pass the bill in the Senate without him. 
 
But his entrenched opposition underscores the uphill battle the legislation faces in getting scheduled for a vote in the Senate, where lawmakers are running out of time and GOP leadership has been noncommittal about whether they will bring it up before the end of the year. 
 
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters this week that supporters needed to introduce the legislation, which they did on Thursday evening, and show that they had 60 votes to pass the bill.
 
Then, leadership would weigh the legislation against other issues that need to clear Congress in the lame duck session.
 
In addition to Cotton, Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) said Thursday that he will object if leadership tries to skip over procedural hurdles in scheduling a vote.
 
If Kennedy follows through, that would force McConnell to decide between eating up days of floor time during a tight schedule or kicking the issue to next year. 
 
And Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told reporters on Thursday that acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker has “problem areas” with the legislation, and that he shared his “concerns” with the president. 
 
Grassley appeared to take aim at Whitaker on Friday, saying in a tweet that he expects the Justice Department to support his legislation. 

“Now w Sessions out as AG + Pres Trump endorsing crim justice reform I expect DOJ to support the bipartisan/tough on crime/fair First Step Act especially since Acting AG Whitaker told me he would support bill if Trump did,” Grassley said. 

Tags Donald Trump John Kennedy Lindsey Graham Mitch McConnell Tom Cotton

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