Grassley: Criminal justice reform should take priority over judges 

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleySenate votes to end debate on criminal justice reform bill Five takeaways from the court decision striking down ObamaCare The Year Ahead: Tough tests loom for Trump trade agenda MORE (R-Iowa) says that passing criminal justice reform should take priority over judicial nominees, challenging Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellIsrael boycott fight roils Democrats in year-end spending debate Schumer blasts GOP request for immigration 'slush fund' Trump: 'Too early to say' if shutdown will be averted 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 John TrumpREAD: Transcript of James Comey's interview with House Republicans Klobuchar on 2020: ‘I do think you want voices from the Midwest’ Israel boycott fight roils Democrats in year-end spending debate 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 FlakeArizona gov taps McSally for McCain Senate seat The Hill's Morning Report — What a shutdown would mean for the government Corker dodges on Trump primary question 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 Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe 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 DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinVeteran industry lobbyist to leave American Petroleum Institute Senate votes to end debate on criminal justice reform bill Harris announces support for White House-backed criminal justice bill 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 Anthony BookerKlobuchar on 2020: ‘I do think you want voices from the Midwest’ Klobuchar moves up in Iowa poll of 2020 Dems Harris announces support for White House-backed criminal justice bill 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.