Pence, Kushner huddle with Senate GOP on criminal justice reform
© Stefani Reynolds

Vice President Pence and President TrumpDonald TrumpGuardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa wins GOP primary in NYC mayor's race Garland dismisses broad review of politicization of DOJ under Trump Schumer vows next steps after 'ridiculous,' 'awful' GOP election bill filibuster MORE's son-in-law and adviser Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerTrump discussed sending infected Americans to Guantanamo Bay: book NYC voters set to decide Vance's replacement amid Trump probe Kushner lands book deal, slated for release in 2022 MORE met behind closed doors with Senate Republicans on Tuesday to talk criminal justice reform as the president urges GOP leadership to vote on a bill this year.

Senators said Kushner, who has been deeply involved in the Senate talks, didn't speak during the lunch, instead letting Pence make the administration's case for supporting the legislation.

"Appreciated VP Pence & Jared Kushner representing the White House 2day at GOP caucus lunch in support of crim justice reform Will [be] historic achievement [and] big win for Pres Trump," Sen. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyBiden's program for migrant children doesn't go far enough The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden support, gas tax questions remain on infrastructure 64 percent of Iowans say 'time for someone else' to hold Grassley's Senate seat: poll MORE (R-Iowa), who helped craft the deal, said in a tweet on Tuesday evening.

Grassley, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, unveiled additional support for the bill after the meeting on Tuesday, bringing the total number of senators who are formally co-sponsoring the legislation to 24.

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But Sen. Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottWhite House says Biden crime address won't undercut police reform bill Sen. Manchin paves way for a telehealth revolution Kerry Washington backs For the People Act: 'Black and Brown voters are being specifically targeted' MORE (R-S.C.), after the closed-door meeting, said senators had 21 "hard" yes votes among the Senate Republican caucus with another handful of GOP senators viewed as likely to support the bill.

Supporters believe they have momentum after Trump offered his endorsement of the legislation earlier this month. Since then, the president has publicly urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate GOP blocks voting rights bill Schumer, McConnell spar as GOP prepares to block voting bill Trump has 'zero desire' to be Speaker, spokesman says MORE (R-Ky.) to bring it up for a vote.

The agreement would merge a House-passed prison reform bill with four changes to sentencing laws, including lowering mandatory minimums for some drug-related felonies and retroactively applying the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act.

But McConnell, according to senators, did not tip his hand during the meeting Tuesday. He has noted that senators have a tight time frame to finish their work for the year and still need to clear must-pass bills including government funding and the farm bill.

Scott noted that he had "no sense yet" about where McConnell would come down, adding that the notoriously tight-lipped leader "holds his cards close to his chest."

McConnell told reporters on Tuesday that they are measuring support within the Senate Republican Conference for the legislation, as well as trying to find a consensus on the timing of the bill.

"We also just had an extensive discussion of criminal justice in our conference, both those who believe we should go forward with a bill this year and those who think we should not," McConnell said.

Supporters believe they could easily get 60 votes for the Senate agreement, but the bill has steep opposition from a small but vocal wing of the caucus. And GOP leadership has refused to bring up previous versions of the legislation because of Republican infighting.

Sen. Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonSenate Republicans: Newly proposed ATF rules could pave way for national gun registry Jon Stewart shows late-night conformity cabal how political comedy is done The Hill's Morning Report - After high-stakes Biden-Putin summit, what now? MORE (R-Ark.) claimed that "thousands, thousands of serious, repeat violent felons" would be released under the bill, saying the end result would be former prisoners committing additional crimes.

"Whatever word games they want to play will be a cold comfort to the victims of the crimes that these felons are going to be commit," Cotton told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt before the meeting.

In addition to Cotton, Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.), who is mulling a governor run in his home state, has said he is opposed to the bill and warned he will object if leadership tries to move it quickly.

Advocates have also flagged Sens. Ben SasseBen SasseGOP senators applaud Biden for global vaccine donation plans Pence: Trump and I may never 'see eye to eye' on events of Jan. 6 White House: Biden will not appoint presidential Jan. 6 commission MORE (Neb.) and Jim RischJim Elroy RischSenate panel plans July briefing on war authorization repeal Iran's presidential election puts new pressure on US nuclear talks GOP lawmakers urge Biden to add sanctions on Russia over Navalny poisoning MORE (Idaho) as other Republican senators who could be hard to win over on the legislation.

Both supporters and opponents spoke about the legislation during the closed-door Senate GOP meeting with Pence and Kushner.

Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerCheney set to be face of anti-Trump GOP How leaving Afghanistan cancels our post-9/11 use of force The unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her  MORE (R-Tenn.) said the discussion was largely focused on "higher level" talks on criminal justice reform and that, if leadership decides to bring up the bill, it could take up to a week of floor time.

"Those people who oppose it you know are probably going to oppose it all the way through," he said. "The people that are for it are really for it, and the people that are against it are really against. ... A lot of people are trying to understand what it does."

GOP Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamThe Hill's Equilibrium — Presented by NextEra Energy — Tasmanian devil wipes out penguin population The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden support, gas tax questions remain on infrastructure This week: Senate set for voting rights fight MORE (S.C.), speaking to reporters after the meeting, dismissed Cotton as the "guy who was most sharply against the bill" and argued that lawmakers have their best shot this year to pass legislation.

"I feel good about it. ... [But] if it doesn't happen this year it's probably never going to happen because next year you're going to have Democratic control of the House," Graham said. "Starting over next year makes it really difficult."