Grassley: Trump will tackle prison reform 'soon after' the midterms

Grassley: Trump will tackle prison reform 'soon after' the midterms
© Greg Nash

Senate advocates of criminal justice reform voiced optimism on Thursday that President TrumpDonald John TrumpFauci says his meetings with Trump have 'dramatically decreased' McEnany criticizes DC mayor for not imposing earlier curfew amid protests Stopping Israel's annexation is a US national security interest MORE would back a bipartisan push to pass legislation soon after the November midterm elections.

Lawmakers weighed in after Trump threw cold water on a criminal justice reform package being crafted in the Senate, making it clear at a White House meeting that he wants to visit the politically charged issue after the midterms.

Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyExpanding tax credit for businesses retaining workers gains bipartisan support Grassley, Leahy urge Roberts to permanently air Supreme Court arguments Democrats broaden probe into firing of State Department watchdog MORE (R-Iowa), the chairman of the Judiciary Committee who has been pushing for the reforms, said in a statement that he is "very encouraged by the leadership shown today by President Trump to make prison and sentencing reform a priority soon after the election."

Grassley also praised Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump tweets as tensions escalate across US This week: Senate reconvenes as protests roil nation amid pandemic For city parks: Pass the Great American Outdoors Act now MORE's (R-Ky.) "openness to bring it up this year." McConnell hasn't publicly given any indication he would bring a criminal justice bill to the Senate floor. 

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"I’m confident with the President’s continued backing, we’ll have more than enough votes to pass a bill overwhelmingly. Americans strongly support these fixes, but previous administrations have not been able to deliver. I believe this one will,” Grassley said.

Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump tweets as tensions escalate across US GOP deeply divided over Trump's social media crackdown House punts on FISA, votes to begin negotiations with Senate MORE (R-Utah), another proponent of reform, said Republicans held two meetings on Capitol Hill to discuss a potential compromise that would link a House-passed prison reform bill with four sentencing reform provisions that have bipartisan support in the Senate.

“Today’s meeting was a huge step forward in getting a bill passed that will help keep communities safe and make our criminal justice system more fair," Lee said in a statement. "I hope to see this bill passed by the end of the year, and expect large bipartisan support as we strive to make our penal system work better for all Americans.”

A broader Senate proposal has languished in the chamber for years—despite supporters saying they had enough votes for it to pass—because of reluctance among leadership to move a bill that would put a spotlight on GOP infighting.

Then-Sen. Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsDemocratic senator to offer amendment halting 'military weaponry' given to police The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump tweets as tensions escalate across US Trump asserts his power over Republicans MORE (R-Ala.) and Sens. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonDemocrats call on FTC to investigate allegations of TikTok child privacy violations GOP senators urge Trump not to restrict guest worker visas Chinese official accuses US of 'pushing our two countries to the brink of a new Cold War' MORE (R-Ark.), Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchBottom line Bottom line Bottom line MORE (R-Utah) and David Perdue (R-Ga.) opposed the broader Senate bill during the Obama administration. Hatch has since signed onto the effort, while Sessions has gone on to lead the Justice Department.

Perdue told The Hill on Thursday that he has spoken with GOP senators as well as Kushner and Trump about the ongoing negotiations and that they were "making progress" and that he was "encouraged" by the White House's endgame. 

"I think we're narrowing it down to a point where ... we might be able to get some consensus," Perdue said. "There has been some significant movement here in just the last two weeks."

Trump, who had previously indicated he was open to the reform plan, made clear during a meeting with Sessions and his senior adviser and son-in-law Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerTrump's strategy to stay in office Trump tries to soothe anxious GOP senators Press: King Donald's goal - no checks, no balances MORE that he wants to revisit the reform package after the midterms, a source told The Hill.

Senate Republican leaders have been reluctant to take a vote on an issue that could divide the GOP ahead of the November midterms. 

White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said in a statement that Trump "remains committed to meaningful prison reform and will continue working with the Senate on their proposed additions to the bill. The administration remains focused on reducing crime, keeping communities safe and saving taxpayer dollars."

Grassley on Thursday sent out a poll from the committee showing widespread public support for reforms such as changing mandatory minimum sentences and making retroactive adjustments to sentencing disparities between crack and powder cocaine offenses.