Grassley: Criminal justice reform should take priority over judges 

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyClash looms over next coronavirus relief bill Trump says GOP 'flexible' on convention plans Overnight Defense: House Dems offer M for Army to rename bases | Bill takes aim at money for Trump's border wall | Suspect in custody after shooting at Marine training facility  MORE (R-Iowa) says that passing criminal justice reform should take priority over judicial nominees, challenging Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellClash looms over next coronavirus relief bill McGrath campaign staffers to join union Romney, Collins, Murkowski won't attend GOP convention 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 TrumpNew Jersey incumbents steamroll progressive challengers in primaries Tucker Carlson ratchets up criticism of Duckworth, calls her a 'coward' Trump on Confederate flag: 'It's freedom of speech' 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 FlakeCheney clashes with Trump Sessions-Tuberville Senate runoff heats up in Alabama GOP lawmakers stick to Trump amid new criticism 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) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout 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 DurbinHillicon Valley: Facebook takes down 'boogaloo' network after pressure | Election security measure pulled from Senate bill | FCC officially designating Huawei, ZTE as threats Overnight Defense: Democrats blast Trump handling of Russian bounty intel | Pentagon leaders set for House hearing July 9 | Trump moves forward with plan for Germany drawdown Democrats, voting rights groups pressure Senate to approve mail-in voting resources 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 BookerNew Jersey incumbents steamroll progressive challengers in primaries Amy Kennedy wins NJ primary to face GOP's Van Drew Booker easily wins New Jersey Senate primary 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.