Trump urges McConnell to act on criminal justice bill

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump: 'I will not let Iran have nuclear weapons' Rocket attack hits Baghdad's Green Zone amid escalating tensions: reports Buttigieg on Trump tweets: 'I don't care' MORE spoke with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBolton emerges as flashpoint in GOP debate on Iran On The Money: Treasury rejects Dem subpoena for Trump tax returns | Companies warn trade war about to hit consumers | Congress, White House to launch budget talks next week | Trump gets deal to lift steel tariffs on Mexico, Canada Schumer calls on McConnell to hold vote on Equality Act 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 CottonGOP senator: Supreme Court abortion cases were 'wrongly decided as a constitutional matter' Senate confirms controversial 9th Circuit pick without blue slips Cotton: US could win war with Iran in 'two strikes' 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 GrassleyOvernight Defense: Trump rails against media coverage | Calls reporting on Iran tensions 'highly inaccurate' | GOP senator blocking Trump pick for Turkey ambassador | Defense bill markup next week Trump reaches deal to lift steel, aluminum tariffs on Mexico, Canada Top GOP senator blocking Trump's pick for Turkey ambassador 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 KushnerWhite House encouraging investment in Middle East as part of peace plan Bank staff highlighted 'suspicious activity' in Trump-, Kushner-controlled accounts: report Trump: 'Good chance' Dems give immigration 'win' after Pelosi called White House plan 'dead on arrival' 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 GrahamTrump, Europe increasingly at odds on Iran Trump: Anonymous news sources are 'bulls---' Trump: 'Good chance' Dems give immigration 'win' after Pelosi called White House plan 'dead on arrival' 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 LeeBolton emerges as flashpoint in GOP debate on Iran Frustrated GOP senators want answers from Trump on Iran Congress can expand paid leave and help workers save with bipartisan support 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.