Trump urges McConnell to act on criminal justice bill

President TrumpDonald John TrumpDem lawmaker says Electoral College was 'conceived' as way to perpetuate slavery Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals to visit White House on Monday Transportation Dept requests formal audit of Boeing 737 Max certification MORE spoke with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP rep to introduce constitutional amendment to limit Supreme Court seats to 9 The Hill's Morning Report - Dems contemplate big election and court reforms Court-packing becomes new litmus test on left 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 CottonSenate rejects border declaration in major rebuke of Trump Hillicon Valley: Doctors press tech to crack down on anti-vax content | Facebook, Instagram suffer widespread outages | Spotify hits Apple with antitrust complaint | FCC rejects calls to delay 5G auction Senate votes to confirm Neomi Rao to appeals court 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 GrassleySeniors win big with Trump rebate rule  Klobuchar: ObamaCare a 'missed opportunity' to address drug costs Just one in five expect savings from Trump tax law: poll 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 KushnerA question of privilege: How Trump could still gut the Mueller report Ex-White House ethics chief compares Ivanka, Kushner security clearances to college admissions scandal Nadler: Half of Trump probe targets likely to comply with document requests 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: Dems want to abolish Electoral College because they 'want rural America to go away' Overwhelming majority of voters want final Mueller report released: poll Bottom Line 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 LeeThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump hits media over New Zealand coverage GOP moves to rein in president's emergency powers The 25 Republicans who defied Trump on emergency declaration 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.