Grassley: Criminal justice reform should take priority over judges 

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyThe road not taken: Another FBI failure involving the Clintons surfaces White House denies exploring payroll tax cut to offset worsening economy Schumer joins Pelosi in opposition to post-Brexit trade deal that risks Northern Ireland accord MORE (R-Iowa) says that passing criminal justice reform should take priority over judicial nominees, challenging Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTwo years after Harvey's devastation, the wake-up call has not been heeded McGrath releases ad blasting McConnell with coal miners in Kentucky: 'Which side are you on?' Prediction: 2020 election is set to be hacked, if we don't act fast 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 TrumpGraham: America must 'accept the pain that comes in standing up to China' Weld 'thrilled' more Republicans are challenging Trump New data challenges Trump's economic narrative 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 FlakeAnti-gun violence organization endorses Kelly's Senate bid Arpaio considering running for former sheriff job after Trump pardon Overnight Energy: Warren edges past Sanders in poll of climate-focused voters | Carbon tax shows new signs of life | Greens fuming at Trump plans for development at Bears Ears monument 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) Swan MuellerMueller report fades from political conversation Trump calls for probe of Obama book deal Democrats express private disappointment with Mueller testimony 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 DurbinSenate Democrats push Trump to permanently shutter migrant detention facility House panel investigating decision to resume federal executions To combat domestic terrorism, Congress must equip law enforcement to fight rise in white supremacist attacks 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 BookerSteyer calls on DNC to expand polling criteria for debates Gabbard hits DNC over poll criteria for debates The Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic field begins to shrink ahead of critical stretch 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.