Grassley: Criminal justice reform should take priority over judges 

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyOn The Money: Inside the Mueller report | Cain undeterred in push for Fed seat | Analysis finds modest boost to economy from new NAFTA | White House says deal will give auto sector B boost The 7 most interesting nuggets from the Mueller report Government report says new NAFTA would have minimal impact on economy MORE (R-Iowa) says that passing criminal justice reform should take priority over judicial nominees, challenging Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellFormer Bush assistant: Mueller report makes Obama look 'just plain bad' 20 years after Columbine, Dems bullish on gun reform Dem says marijuana banking bill will get House vote this spring 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 TrumpImpeachment? Not so fast without missing element of criminal intent Feds say marijuana ties could prevent immigrants from getting US citizenship Trump approval drops to 2019 low after Mueller report's release: poll 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 FlakePollster says Trump unlikely to face 'significant' primary challenge Trump gives nod to vulnerable GOP Sen. McSally with bill signing Flake opens up about threats against him and his family 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 DurbinDurbin calls Mueller report findings on Trump team 'troubling' Congress opens door to fraught immigration talks McConnell: 'Past time' for immigration-border security deal 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 BookerResurfaced Buttigieg yearbook named him 'most likely to be president' Man arrested for threatening Dems, citing Omar comments Buttigieg says he wouldn't be opposed to having Phish play at his inauguration 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.