Senate

Grassley: Trump will tackle prison reform ‘soon after’ the midterms

Senate advocates of criminal justice reform voiced optimism on Thursday that President Trump 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 Grassley (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 McConnell’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 Lee (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 Sessions (R-Ala.) and Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Orrin Hatch (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 Kushner 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.

Tags Chuck Grassley Chuck Grassley David Perdue Donald Trump Donald Trump Jared Kushner Jeff Sessions Jeff Sessions Mike Lee Mike Lee Mitch McConnell Orrin Hatch Orrin Hatch Tom Cotton Tom Cotton

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