Trump tells McConnell to let Senate vote on criminal justice reform

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump calls for Republicans to be 'united' on abortion Tlaib calls on Amash to join impeachment resolution Facebook temporarily suspended conservative commentator Candace Owens MORE on Friday urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOn The Money: Treasury rejects Dem subpoena for Trump tax returns | Companies warn trade war about to hit consumers | Congress, White House to launch budget talks next week | Trump gets deal to lift steel tariffs on Mexico, Canada Schumer calls on McConnell to hold vote on Equality Act House Dem cites transgender grandson in voting for Equality Act MORE (R-Ky.) to bring a bipartisan criminal justice reform package up for a vote as influential GOP senators pressure McConnell to take up the legislation this month.

The bill, which would reduce mandatory minimum sentences for some federal offenses and expand rehabilitation services, is supported by the White House and many senators, but faces opposition from some conservative senators including Sen. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonSenate confirms controversial 9th Circuit pick without blue slips Cotton: US could win war with Iran in 'two strikes' Kushner, Miller talk immigration at Senate GOP lunch MORE (R-Ark.).

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"Hopefully Mitch McConnell will ask for a VOTE on Criminal Justice Reform. It is extremely popular and has strong bipartisan support," Trump tweeted Friday afternoon.

"It will also help a lot of people, save taxpayer dollars, and keep our communities safe. Go for it Mitch!" he added.

Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyOvernight Defense: Trump rails against media coverage | Calls reporting on Iran tensions 'highly inaccurate' | GOP senator blocking Trump pick for Turkey ambassador | Defense bill markup next week Trump reaches deal to lift steel, aluminum tariffs on Mexico, Canada Top GOP senator blocking Trump's pick for Turkey ambassador MORE (R-Iowa), the outgoing chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee who has publicly pushed McConnell to hold a vote on the package before the end of the year, tweeted Friday afternoon that he spoke with Trump about the bill.

Grassley wrote that Trump "told me he wants it done" before Congress adjourns for the year.

Sens. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward Cruz Eye-popping number of Dems: I can beat Trump 'SleepyCreepy Joe' and 'Crazy Bernie': Trump seeks to define 2020 Dems with insults The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Pass USMCA Coalition - Restrictive state abortion laws ignite fiery 2020 debate MORE (R-Texas) and Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisLawmakers call for investigation after census hired registered sex offender Dem Senate campaign arm hits GOP lawmakers over Trump tax law Graham encourages Donald Trump Jr. to plead the Fifth MORE (R-N.C.) on Friday also came out in support of the bill, which was created with input from White House adviser Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerTrump: 'Good chance' Dems give immigration 'win' after Pelosi called White House plan 'dead on arrival' The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by Pass USMCA Coalition — Trump: GOP has `clear contrast' with Dems on immigration Trump's immigration push faces Capitol Hill buzzsaw MORE

Cruz said in a statement that the White House and GOP sponsors of the bill have decided to accept an amendment he drafted "that would exclude violent offenders from being released early."

The Senate legislation merges a House-passed prison reform bill aimed at reducing recidivism with four changes to mandatory minimum sentencing laws. While wide-ranging in its changes to the federal justice system, the law would only affect federal inmates, a small portion of America's total incarcerated population.

McConnell has insisted that he will only bring up the legislation if it has enough support from Republicans to pass, while GOP senators backing the bill have argued that it has support to pass should it be taken up this month.

Supporters argue the bill has roughly 30 Republican backers, but it's run into a wall of opposition among conservatives, including Cotton and Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.), and concerns from the high-profile National Sheriffs' Association. 

Still, advocates and the White House have been increasing public pressure on Republican leadership as they try to get the bill to the floor this year as they are quickly running out of time. Congress has 10 working days until the Dec. 21 funding deadline, and lawmakers would like to skip town before then if possible. 

During a Wall Street Journal event this week, McConnell warned that the criminal justice bill was "extremely controversial" and could eat up to 10 days of the Senate's schedule, time that he doesn't have as he tries to fund the government, pass a farm bill and manage an unwieldy debate over the U.S.'s involvement in Yemen's civil war. 

“It’s extremely divisive inside the Senate Republican conference. In fact there are more members in my conference that are either against it or undecided than are for it,” McConnell added.

He added that with House Democrats taking over the majority in January he was "pretty confident" that it could pass in 2019.

But senators who back the legislation worry that Democrats will try to reopen negotiations and push to include broader sentencing reforms that Senate Republicans, who are increasing their majority by 2 — going from 51 seats to 53 seats — won't support.

They've been locked in negotiations about possible changes they could make to the bill to shore up Republican support, including adding to the list of crimes that would exclude an individual from "earned time" credits, which shave time off an individual's sentence. 
 
 
 
Graham said on Friday morning in a tweet that he had "just talked" with Trump, adding that the president "strongly believes criminal justice reform bill must pass now."