Trump urges McConnell to act on criminal justice bill

President TrumpDonald John TrumpBusiness school deans call for lifting country-specific visa caps Bolton told ex-Trump aide to call White House lawyers about Ukraine pressure campaign: report Federal prosecutors in New York examining Giuliani business dealings with Ukraine: report MORE spoke with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellFury over Trump Syria decision grows Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Trump to slap sanctions on Turkey for Syria offensive | Trump calls on Turkey to broker ceasefire | Pelosi, Graham seek deal on sanctions | Ex-Trump aide testifies in impeachment probe Trump: Let Assad, Russia or China protect the Kurds MORE (R-Ky.) this week to urge him to move forward on a criminal justice reform package that has sparked internal divisions within the GOP.

During a Tuesday telephone call, Trump "did urge him to try to get this done in the lame duck," a senior White House official told The Hill.


The conversation follows a White House meeting last week with Senate GOP leaders, during which McConnell told the president he did not believe there would be enough floor time to pass the measure in the lame-duck session.

Trump's lobbying effort comes as the criminal justice package faces an uncertain future and shows the president is willing to spend political capital to force action on it.

The bill has caused tension within the Republican Party, with Sen. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonZuckerberg defends meetings with conservative politicians, pundits Bipartisan senators want federal plan for sharing more info on supply chain threats On The Money: Fed officials saw rising risk of recession | Ocasio-Cortez, Cruz blast NBA for 'outrageous' response to China | Prospects dim for trade breakthrough with China MORE (R-Ark.) ripping the measure and urging his colleagues to oppose it. Several top Senate Republicans, including Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyGOP braces for impeachment brawl PhRMA CEO warns Pelosi bill to lower drug prices would be 'devastating' for industry GOP requests update on criminal referrals prompted by 2018 Kavanaugh probe MORE (Iowa), have said they support the measure.

McConnell's warning about the lame-duck calendar has the bill's advocates worried that he might quash it, despite backing from Trump and his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerButtigieg knocks Trump as a 'walking conflict of interest' Biden's weak response to Trump is a lesson for Democratic candidates Mark Hamill zings Ivanka Trump for 'Star Wars' tweet MORE.  

The measure would reduce mandatory minimum sentences for certain nonviolent drug offenders and incentivize the use of anti-recidivism programs in federal prisons. Trump threw his support behind the bill last week at a White House event, saying "I'll be waiting with my pen" to sign it. 

Supporters of the bill have raised further pressure on McConnell to bring it to the floor. Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham throws support behind Trump's Turkey sanctions Hillicon Valley: Warren takes on Facebook over political ads | Zuckerberg defends meetings with conservatives | Civil liberties groups sound alarm over online extremism bill Fury over Trump Syria decision grows MORE (R-S.C.) said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press" there is enough bipartisan support to pass it if McConnell allows a vote.

"Let’s start 2019 on a positive note," Graham said. "I’m urging Sen. McConnell to bring the bill to the floor of the Senate. It would get 80 votes. Mr. President, pick up the phone and push the Republican leadership."

Grassley echoed those sentiments on Sunday, tweeting: "I join my colleagues Sen. Graham & Paul calling on Ldr McConnell to bring criminal justice reform to the floor for a vote this yr It’s the right thing to do 4our country Bipartisan support & we have the votes to pass it Tough on crime but FAIR #PassFirstStep"

McConnell, however, is viewed as wanting to avoid stoking tensions between the bill's supporters and opponents, such as Cotton. Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeZuckerberg defends meetings with conservative politicians, pundits GOP requests update on criminal referrals prompted by 2018 Kavanaugh probe McConnell warns Trump against withdrawing troops from Syria MORE (R-Utah), a supporter of the bill, accused Cotton of spreading "fake news" about the bill during a Twitter spat, which some saw as a possible prelude to a nasty floor battle.

Cotton had said the bill would grant prisoners an "early release," a claim Lee denied. 

The Senate leader has said publicly he would whip support for the bill when senators return to Washington after their Thanksgiving break. If he determines it has sufficient support, then he will weigh it against other lame-duck priorities like nominations, the farm bill and a government funding measure.