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Grassley: Criminal justice reform should take priority over judges 

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyGrassley: Iowa can't afford to be 'babysitting' unaccompanied minors Anti-Asian hate crimes bill overcomes first Senate hurdle On The Money: Senate confirms Gensler to lead SEC | Senate GOP to face off over earmarks next week | Top Republican on House tax panel to retire MORE (R-Iowa) says that passing criminal justice reform should take priority over judicial nominees, challenging Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP acknowledges struggle to bring down Biden Pew poll: 50 percent approve of Democrats in Congress Pelosi on power in DC: 'You have to seize it' MORE (R-Ky.), who wants to keep the focus on nominees and other issues this month. 

Grassley says he’s willing to push judicial nominees pending in his committee over into 2019 to give his colleagues more time to debate bipartisan criminal justice reform legislation that he has been working on for four years and has the support of President TrumpDonald TrumpDC goes to the dogs — Major and Champ, that is Biden on refugee cap: 'We couldn't do two things at once' Taylor Greene defends 'America First' effort, pushes back on critics MORE

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“We don’t have to deal with the Democratic House of Representatives when we do our human resources job that the Constitution gives the Senate. It would be a very legitimate trade-off if time is a factor,” Grassley told The Washington Post Live Tuesday morning. 

“Doing two less judges to get a criminal justice reform bill would be a very good trade off as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “For the benefit for the president, for the benefit of bipartisan compromise.”

Grassley noted that judges are stuck in the Judiciary Committee for the time being because Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeFive reasons why US faces chronic crisis at border Senate GOP faces retirement brain drain Former GOP lawmaker: Republican Party 'engulfed in lies and fear' MORE (R-Ariz.), a member of the panel, has vowed to block them until McConnell allows a vote on his bill to protect special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerWhy a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel CNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump MORE from being fired without just cause. 

“We can’t as long as Flake is not going to vote with us,” Grassley said when asked about the possibility of moving judicial nominees when the Judiciary panel meets later this week. “We’re not going to deal with judges that we lose 10-11 if they otherwise get out 11-10.”

Grassley argued that criminal justice reform has well over 60 votes in the Senate and that McConnell should follow through on his promise to move it if it had enough support.

“If McConnell will bring this up, it will pass overwhelmingly and he can do it in a way — several different ways — to shorten the time it would take,” Grassley said. “This can be done in three or four days real easily.”

McConnell, however, has warned colleagues that debating the bill could take as long as 10 days, chewing up valuable time before Christmas. He said must-pass bills such as the farm bill and the seven remaining appropriations bills should take priority.

Grassley’s Democratic partner on the legislation, Senate Minority Whip Dick DurbinDick DurbinBiden on refugee cap: 'We couldn't do two things at once' For a win on climate, let's put our best player in the game Biden angers Democrats by keeping Trump-era refugee cap MORE (Ill.), is taking the lead in rounding up support for the bill in the Democratic conference. 

Durbin told the Post that he is working with Sen. Cory BookerCory BookerProgressive lawmakers press DHS chief on immigration detention Democrats battle over best path for Puerto Rico Biden's DOJ civil rights nominee faces sharp GOP criticism MORE (D-N.J.) to build Democratic support. 

“Cory Booker and I can bring together a substantial majority of Democrats,” he said. “I think we have good support on the left. I don’t have anyone that I’m worried about at the moment.”

Grassley said that McConnell opposed voting on criminal justice reform in the past because Senate Republicans faced primary challenges in 2016, but the Judiciary Committee chairman doesn’t think that is still a threat.

“I think that had something to do with not bringing it up in the summer of 2016 because we had a lot of Republican senators up for election that had primary opposition and I think that was his reason then. I have not heard that to be a reason now,” Grassley said. 

Grassley noted a number of conservative groups have come out in support of the legislation.

He warned that criminal justice reform is less likely to pass once Democrats take control of the House in January. 

“We have [a] once-in-a-generation opportunity to accomplish something on criminal justice reform. We should move on it,” he said.