A Trump-backed criminal justice reform bill is hitting a major roadblock in the Senate: Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBiden says he's open to altering, eliminating filibuster to advance voting rights Pelosi says GOP senators 'voted to aid and abet' voter suppression for blocking revised elections bill Manchin insists he hasn't threatened to leave Democrats MORE (R-Ky.).
Republican senators, including Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyAnother voice of reason retires Overnight Health Care — Presented by Carequest — FDA moves to sell hearing aids over-the-counter McConnell: GOP should focus on future, not 'rehash' 2020 MORE (R-Iowa), are trying to increase pressure on McConnell to move the bill during the lame-duck session and are getting help from President TrumpDonald TrumpSix big off-year elections you might be missing Twitter suspends GOP Rep. Banks for misgendering trans health official Meghan McCain to Trump: 'Thanks for the publicity' MORE's adult children, who have called on Congress to pass the legislation quickly.
Supporters of the Senate deal, which pairs a House-passed prison reform bill with four changes to sentencing laws, are leaning hard into Trump’s support.
But it may not be enough to win over McConnell, who also must answer to key conservatives in his conference who are strongly opposed to the bill.
“Leader McConnell is in a very difficult position. You know, he has to listen to all of the concerns of every one of his members,” said Holly Harris, the executive director of Justice Action Network, which supports the legislation.
The GOP leader has warned that Congress has other must-pass bills and a short time frame.
He reportedly told Trump during a closed-door meeting last week that it was unlikely the criminal justice bill could pass before Dec. 14, when the Senate is scheduled to wrap its work for the year.
Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulRand Paul calls for Fauci's firing over 'lack of judgment' Vaccine 'resisters' are a real problem Democrats fret as longshot candidates pull money, attention MORE (R), a supporter of the bill, said it is all up to his fellow Kentucky senator.
“If Sen. Mitch McConnell, from my home state, will allow a vote, it gets 65 to 70 votes in the Senate,” he told CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
“It will be one of the most popular things to ever pass,” he added.
Supporters of the bill argue that McConnell’s seeming indifference is political, not personal.
He doesn’t want to put a spotlight on GOP divisions as he tries to navigate a complicated end-of-the-year congressional calendar.
The Senate is set to vote on five nominations when lawmakers return from the Thanksgiving recess. They’re also barreling toward a Dec. 7 deadline to prevent a partial government shutdown, leaving only days to also complete a criminal justice reform bill.
Harris, who said she is “confident” the legislation will get a vote this year, predicted McConnell will increasingly feel pressure to bring up the bill from his home state, where other prominent politicians have been more hands on. Republican Gov. Matt Bevin created a criminal justice working group in 2016. Meanwhile, Paul has been talking up the issue for years and his wife, Kelley Paul, is helping lobby Republican senators to support the bill.
FreedomWorks has directed almost 10,000 “actions” at McConnell since last week from his constituents. Jason Pye, the group’s vice president of legislative affairs, said what McConnell does is the deciding factor at this point.
“It’s kind of unthinkable that he’s going to go up against two of the most popular politicians in his state,” Pye added, referring to Trump and Paul. “[But] McConnell is the person who makes the decision. He’s the whole ballgame right now.”
Conservative opponents of the bill warn it will make their party and the Trump administration look soft on crime. Sen. Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonIs the Navy totally at sea? The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Altria - House debt vote today; Biden struggles to unite Arkansas legislature splits Little Rock in move that guarantees GOP seats MORE (R-Ark.), for example, says it will result in the early release of “dangerous, repeat felons.”
The statement prompted Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeCawthorn, Lee introduce bills banning interstate travel vaccine mandate Retreating economy creates new hurdle for Democrats in 2022 McConnell vows GOP won't help raise debt ceiling in December after Schumer 'tantrum' MORE (R-Utah) to call Cotton’s warning “fake news.”
Cotton fired back that “sheriffs” called the bill “dangerous.”
Lee then said that if Cotton has “good faith” issues with the bill, he should work with his colleagues and that McConnell should bring the bill to the floor so “debate can begin.”
That would put a dramatic fight on the Senate floor and place media attention on a public Republican-on-Republican battle that the GOP leader typically wants to avoid.
In addition to Cotton, opponents include Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.), who is mulling a run for governor. He is threatening to object if leadership tries to move the bill on the Senate floor before the end of the year.
Under Senate rules, any one senator could object to quickly moving the bill across the Senate floor. That would force McConnell to set aside days of floor time — he reportedly warned Trump that it could take up to 10 days — to get the criminal justice bill to a final vote, time that Republican leaders are warning they do not have as they juggle other items on their end-of-the-year to-do list.
“Obviously we don’t have enough time without consent to process a bill and still do the other things we need to do,” said Sen. John CornynJohn CornynCornyn raises more than M for Senate GOP Is the Biden administration afraid of trade? The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - After high drama, Senate lifts debt limit MORE (R-Texas), McConnell’s No. 2.
Grassley and other Republican senators are launching a full-court press to sway McConnell as they try to out maneuver conservatives who are demanding a hearing on the legislation—tactics supporters argue are actually meant to delay the bill until next year, when Democrats will control the House and could want to reopen negotiations.
Grassley is taking a multipronged approach: a personal plea that McConnell owes him “reciprocity” for the party’s ability to push through dozens of court nominees and near daily tweets telling McConnell to get on board with Trump.
Grassley, in one of the latest tweets, noted that the bill is “designed for strong Senate support” and that McConnell “said if 60 votes we can bring to floor” this year.
Republicans are getting help from Trump’s inner circle, with adviser and son-in-law Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerTrump attacks Meghan McCain and her family McCain: Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner had 'no goddamn business' attending father's funeral Hillicon Valley — Presented by LookingGlass — Hackers are making big money MORE, Donald Trump Jr.Don TrumpHow Trump uses fundraising emails to remain undisputed leader of the GOP Donald Trump Jr. joins Cameo Book claims Trump family members were 'inappropriately' close with Secret Service agents MORE and Ivanka TrumpIvanka TrumpTrump attacks Meghan McCain and her family McCain: Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner had 'no goddamn business' attending father's funeral Grisham: Time in Trump administration 'will follow me forever' MORE each urging Congress to pass the bill.
Kushner and Thomas Philipson, a member of the president’s council of economic advisers, touted the details and Trump’s support of the bill in a USA Today op-ed, writing that the reforms “supported by the president are an important broad-based approach that will, hopefully, benefit not only prisoners, but also the American public.”
Trump endorsed the bill last week in a major win for supporters who hoped that his blessing would be enough to overcome conservative opposition. But since then his attention has wandered as he’s jumped between topics, including border security, aid to Pakistan and special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerSenate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel MORE’s investigation.
Harris predicted that the White House would “lean in hard” for the bill and that there would be a “tsunami” of support for the Senate legislation.
Pye added that Trump needs to lobby directly and say “he wants the bill on the floor.”
Trump will likely need to be involved heavily in the down-to-the-wire lobbying if the bill is going to get moved this year.
Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamPennsylvania Republican becomes latest COVID-19 breakthrough case in Congress McCain: Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner had 'no goddamn business' attending father's funeral Mayorkas tests positive for COVID-19 breakthrough case MORE (R-S.C.), who is expected to be the next Judiciary Committee chairman, said that Trump should directly lobby McConnell to give it a vote this year.
“I’m urging Sen. McConnell to bring the bill to the floor of the Senate. It would get 80 votes,” Graham told NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “Mr. President, pick up the phone and push the Republican leadership."