Senate

Bipartisan senator duo urges Trump to back criminal justice bill

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A bipartisan pair of senators is seeking a new, powerful ally as they try to move criminal justice reform legislation through the Senate: President Trump.

Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) on Tuesday held a joint press conference to urge the president to get involved in the reform process — “in a positive way,” Durbin caveated.

“We need for the president, the president of the United States, to say this is a priority for us as well. Let’s do this criminal justice reform, to include prison reform. … What a breakthrough that would be,” he added.

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Grassley noted that while Trump frequently tweets about Senate Democrats needing “to do something,” criminal justice reform is an area where there is already bipartisan agreement. 

“It kind of is a good combination between what’s good politics and what’s good policy. … This is an opportunity for the president to have a win. It’s an opportunity for our justice system to have a win. … It would help a lot if the president would engage on this very important issue,” Grassley said. 

Grassley acknowledged that while he has spoken to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and White House adviser and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner on the issue, he has not yet spoken to the president. 

The push for Trump to personally get behind the criminal justice reform bill comes as the issue has largely stalled on Capitol Hill.

The House passed legislation that would only address prison reform last month. Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) have introduced a similar bill in the Senate. 

But Grassley and Durbin are pushing broader criminal justice reform legislation, which would include changes to both sentencing reform and prison reform.

Their bill, which has the backing of more than one-fourth of the Senate, includes reductions in mandatory minimums for certain drug offenses while increasing mandatory minimums for other offenses. 

Grassley and Durbin reiterated on Tuesday that they believe they have the 60 votes needed to pass the legislation in the Senate if they are able to get the bill to the floor. 

But broader criminal justice legislation has faced pushback from members of the Trump administration including Sessions, who was a vocal opponent of the bill in 2015 and 2016. 

Grassley said he spoke to Sessions about the issue last year and told him that the bill would not undercut the administration’s ability to be “tough on crime.”  

“I thought that I determined an opening. Well that opening hasn’t materialized and obviously I didn’t make an impact,” Grassley said. “But that invitation still stands.”  

Tags Bipartisan bill Chuck Grassley Dick Durbin Donald Trump Jared Kushner Jeff Sessions John Cornyn Prison reform Senate Sentencing reform Sheldon Whitehouse

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