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 TrumpBill Kristol resurfaces video of Pence calling Obama executive action on immigration a 'profound mistake' ACLU says planned national emergency declaration is 'clear abuse of presidential power' O'Rourke says he'd 'absolutely' take down border wall near El Paso if he could 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 GrassleySenate approves border bill that prevents shutdown Grassley raises voice after McConnell interrupts Senate speech Senate confirms Trump pick William Barr as new attorney general 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 McConnellBill Kristol resurfaces video of Pence calling Obama executive action on immigration a 'profound mistake' Winners and losers in the border security deal House passes border deal, setting up Trump to declare emergency 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 LeeSenate approves border bill that prevents shutdown Push for paid family leave heats up ahead of 2020 New act can help us grapple with portion of exploding national debt 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 SessionsMcCabe book: Sessions once said FBI was better off when it 'only hired Irishmen' Senate confirms Trump pick William Barr as new attorney general Rod Rosenstein’s final insult to Congress: Farewell time for reporters but not testimony MORE (R-Ala.) and Sens. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonSenate approves border bill that prevents shutdown 'Morning Joe' host quizzes Howard Schultz on price of a box of Cheerios Huawei charges escalate Trump fight with China MORE (R-Ark.), Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchOrrin Hatch Foundation seeking million in taxpayer money to fund new center in his honor Mitch McConnell has shown the nation his version of power grab Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — Utah Senate votes to scale back Medicaid expansion | Virginia abortion bill reignites debate | Grassley invites drug execs to testify | Conservative groups push back on e-cig crackdown 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 KushnerThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the American Academy of HIV Medicine - Will there be any last-minute shutdown drama? Rule change sharpens Dem investigations into Trump Drama hits Senate Intel panel’s Russia inquiry 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.