Trump urges McConnell to act on criminal justice bill

President TrumpDonald John TrumpNew Jersey incumbents steamroll progressive challengers in primaries Tucker Carlson ratchets up criticism of Duckworth, calls her a 'coward' Trump on Confederate flag: 'It's freedom of speech' MORE spoke with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellClash looms over next coronavirus relief bill McGrath campaign staffers to join union Romney, Collins, Murkowski won't attend GOP convention 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 CottonTom Bryant CottonHillicon Valley: Pompeo floats TikTok ban | Civil rights groups slam Facebook after call | Election security funding included in proposal Pompeo: US 'certainly looking at' ban on Chinese social media apps like TikTok Overnight Defense: DOD reportedly eyeing Confederate flag ban | House military spending bill blocks wall funding 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 GrassleyClash looms over next coronavirus relief bill Trump says GOP 'flexible' on convention plans Overnight Defense: House Dems offer M for Army to rename bases | Bill takes aim at money for Trump's border wall | Suspect in custody after shooting at Marine training facility  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 KushnerTrump sealed his own fate The Hill's Morning Report - Republicans shift, urge people to wear masks Mueller investigation witness George Nader sentenced to a decade in prison in child sex case 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 challenger Harrison raises record-shattering .9 million for SC Senate bid Trump renews culture war, putting GOP on edge Bubba Wallace responds to Trump: 'Even when it's HATE from the POTUS.. Love wins' 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 LeeGianforte halts in-person campaigning after wife, running mate attend event with Guilfoyle Sunday shows preview: Lawmakers to address alarming spike in coronavirus cases Senate panel votes 21-1 to back Justice IG measure over Graham objections 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.