McConnell agrees to vote on Trump-backed criminal justice bill

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBolton emerges as flashpoint in GOP debate on Iran On 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 MORE (R-Ky.) said on Tuesday that he will bring a bipartisan criminal justice bill up for a vote, marking a significant win for the legislation's supporters, including President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump: 'I will not let Iran have nuclear weapons' Rocket attack hits Baghdad's Green Zone amid escalating tensions: reports Buttigieg on Trump tweets: 'I don't care' MORE

"At the request of the president and following improvements to the legislation that has been secured by several members, the Senate will take up the recently revised criminal justice bill," McConnell said from the Senate floor. 

McConnell didn't specify when the Senate will vote but said he will "turn to" the legislation "as early as the end of this week." If the Senate is able to pass the measure, AshLee Strong, a spokeswoman for Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanDebate with Donald Trump? Just say no Ex-Trump adviser says GOP needs a better health-care message for 2020 Liz Cheney faces a big decision on her future MORE (R-Wis.), said the House "will be ready to act" on the revised bill.

Backers and advocates have been publicly and privately lobbying McConnell for months to bring the bill to the floor, arguing that they have at least 70 votes in support of the legislation. The bill, spearheaded by Sens. 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) and Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinLet's stop treating student borrowers like second-class citizens Trump's immigration push faces Capitol Hill buzzsaw Hillicon Valley: Trump takes flak for not joining anti-extremism pact | Phone carriers largely end sharing of location data | Huawei pushes back on ban | Florida lawmakers demand to learn counties hacked by Russians | Feds bust 0M cybercrime group MORE (D-Ill.), merges a House-passed prison reform bill aimed at reducing recidivism with four changes to sentencing laws. 

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McConnell's remarks are a dramatic turnaround from last week, when he appeared to warn at a Wall Street Journal event that he did not have time to move the criminal justice bill this year, which he said could take up to 10 days. 

“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 or for it,” McConnell said at the event. “This is a one-week to 10-day bill and I’ve got two weeks.”

McConnell and Cornyn estimated last week that a majority of the conference is either undecided or opposed to the bill. But since then, several Republican senators, including 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 (Texas) and David Perdue (Ga.), have publicly endorsed the measure.

In a major win for backers, Sen. John CornynJohn CornynTrump's immigration push faces Capitol Hill buzzsaw The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Pass USMCA Coalition - Restrictive state abortion laws ignite fiery 2020 debate Sinema, Gallagher fastest lawmakers in charity race MORE (R-Texas), McConnell's No. 2, also came out in support of the bill on Tuesday — a move advocates believe could help move other undecided GOP senators.

"I think we'll see a number of Republicans now come on board supporting this bill as amended," Cornyn told reporters. "People now know that we're going to vote on it, it's going to cause people to have to make a decision, but I'm pretty optimistic."

Durbin and Grassley have been circulating a draft that includes changes meant to win over more GOP support. The new version of the bill is expected to be released as soon as Tuesday.

"We've done everything that he and other Republicans have asked us to do: You have to have more than 60 votes. Two weeks ago, we decided that we had to do more compromising. .... You have to have the president on board, we have the president on board," Grassley said, when asked how McConnell got to allowing for a vote.

Grassley also told reporters that McConnell privately pushed back when the Iowa senator said during a recent phone conversation that he thought the Senate GOP leader was opposed to the bill. 

"I never heard him say he was against the bill. In fact, in one telephone conversation, I may have suggested he was against the bill. And he said, I have never said I'm against the bill," Grassley recounted. 

The changes are expected to include expanding the list of crimes that exclude an individual from bill’s “earned time” credits, which shave time off a prison sentence. Senators are also discussing eliminating a “safety valve” portion of the bill that gives judges some discretion in going around mandatory minimums.

Republican supporters have estimated that they have roughly 30 yes votes within their own caucus. Durbin said on Tuesday that said support within the Democratic caucus was "pretty solid."

"I can't guarantee 100 percent, but it's pretty solid," he added, pressed on a number of supporters.

Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerDe Blasio pitches himself as tough New Yorker who can take on 'Don the con' Sanders pledges to only nominate Supreme Court justices that support Roe v. Wade From dive bars to steakhouses: How Iowa caucus staffers blow off steam MORE (D-N.J.) added that no Democratic colleagues had told him that the changes aimed at winning over more Republicans would cost him their vote. 

"People in my caucus who are progressives who understand ... some elements of the bill, 90 percent of the beneficiaries will be African Americans," Booker said. "I would be deeply disappointed if anybody in our caucus votes against a bill that is going to disproportionally help low-income people and minorities." 

McConnell's decision comes days after Trump doubled down on publicly urging the GOP leader to bring up the bill for a vote.

"Hopefully Mitch McConnell will ask for a VOTE on Criminal Justice Reform. It is extremely popular and has strong bipartisan support. It will also help a lot of people, save taxpayer dollars, and keep our communities safe. Go for it Mitch!" Trump said in a tweet last Friday.

Though the criminal justice fight has broad support in both parties, bringing it to the floor tees up a nasty intra-Republican battle with a group of vocal conservative opponents.

Cornyn acknowledged that if opponents force them to go through all the procedural hurdles, it could force the Senate to work up until the end of the year. McConnell, speaking from the Senate floor, warned that without an agreement, senators should be prepared to work between Christmas and New Year's Day.

Cornyn noted that McConnell's Christmas threat "provides a powerful incentive for people to cooperate."

"If we have to jump through all the procedural hoops, we're never going to get all our work done," Cornyn added.

In addition to a swath of Republican senators who have quietly raised concerns about the bill, the measure is also facing fierce opposition from a small group of Republican lawmakers.

Sen. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonGOP senator: Supreme Court abortion cases were 'wrongly decided as a constitutional matter' Senate confirms controversial 9th Circuit pick without blue slips Cotton: US could win war with Iran in 'two strikes' MORE (R-Ark.) has been deeply opposed to the legislation, which he has termed the "jailbreak bill, indicated on Tuesday that he won't go down without a fight on the Senate floor.

"I look forward to debating this bill on the Senate floor and introducing amendments to address its many remaining threats to public safety," Cotton said in a tweet.

Pressed if would object to leadership moving the bill quickly, Cotton said he would let his colleagues decide if "they want to let violent, repeat, serious felons out of prison."

Asked about the Senate working after Christmas, Cotton told reporters as he got in an elevator to go vote: "Merry Christmas."

-updated 12:31 p.m.