Senate votes to end debate on criminal justice reform bill

The Senate advanced a White House-backed criminal justice reform bill on Monday, paving the way for senators to try to pass the bill as early as Tuesday.

Senators voted 82-12 to end debate on the legislation, which merges a House-passed prison reform bill with a handful of changes to sentencing laws.

Twelve Republicans voted against advancing the legislation despite President TrumpDonald John TrumpCNN's Camerota clashes with Trump's immigration head over president's tweet LA Times editorial board labels Trump 'Bigot-in-Chief' Trump complains of 'fake polls' after surveys show him trailing multiple Democratic candidates MORE endorsing the measure in November: Sens. John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoHouse passes bill to crack down on toxic 'forever chemicals' GOP senator: US should 'reevaluate' long-term relationship with Saudis Meet the key Senate player in GOP fight over Saudi Arabia MORE (Wyo.), Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrHillicon Valley: Senate bill would force companies to disclose value of user data | Waters to hold hearing on Facebook cryptocurrency | GOP divided on election security bills | US tracking Russian, Iranian social media campaigns GOP senators divided over approach to election security GOP frets about Trump's poll numbers MORE (N.C.), Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonFive things to know about Iran's breaches of the nuclear deal Hillicon Valley: Trump gets pushback after reversing course on Huawei | China installing surveillance apps on visitors' phones | Internet provider Cloudflare suffers outage | Consumer groups look to stop Facebook cryptocurrency The Hill's Morning Report - Harris, Warren rise and Biden tumbles after debates MORE (Ark.), Mike EnziMichael (Mike) Bradley EnziLawmakers concede they might have to pass a dreaded 'CR' Bottom Line Former GOP Rep. Cynthia Lummis files to run for Wyoming Senate seat MORE (Wyo.), John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (La.), Jon Kyl (Ariz.), Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiFinally, GOP lawmakers prove conservation and conservatism go hand-in-hand Alaska political mess has legislators divided over meeting place Republican lawmakers on why they haven't read Mueller report: 'Tedious' and 'what's the point?' MORE (Alaska), Jim RischJames (Jim) Elroy RischThis week: House Dems voting to hold Barr, Ross in contempt Congress mobilizes on cyber threats to electric grid Overnight Defense: House approves 3 billion defense bill | Liberal sweeteners draw progressive votes | Bill includes measure blocking Trump from military action on Iran MORE (Idaho), Ben SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric SasseAcosta on shaky ground as GOP support wavers Some good advice for Democrats to ignore in 2020 Swing-state Democrats see trouble in proposed pay hike MORE (Neb.), Dan SullivanDaniel Scott SullivanSenate sets new voting record with Iran war measure Overnight Defense: Trump says he doesn't need exit strategy with Iran | McConnell open to vote on Iran war authorization | Senate panel advances bill to restrict emergency arms sales Senators weigh potential security risks from Chinese-made drones MORE (Alaska), Mike RoundsMarion (Mike) Michael RoundsGOP struggles to find backup plan for avoiding debt default Trump puts hopes for Fed revolution on unconventional candidate Senate GOP raises concerns about White House stopgap plan to avoid shutdown MORE (S.D.) and Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyNSA improperly collected US phone records in October, new documents show Overnight Defense: Pick for South Korean envoy splits with Trump on nuclear threat | McCain blasts move to suspend Korean military exercises | White House defends Trump salute of North Korean general WH backpedals on Trump's 'due process' remark on guns MORE (Pa.).

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The Senate is expected to vote on potential changes to the legislation as soon as Tuesday before taking a final vote on the bill.

“There are a number of members with outstanding concerns that they feel are still unresolved. ... The Senate will be considering amendments before we vote on final passage later this week,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellWhat Democrats should say about guns This week: House Dems voting to hold Barr, Ross in contempt Juan Williams: GOP in a panic over Mueller MORE (R-Ky.) said ahead of the vote.

Though supporters rolled out a final version of the bill last week to try to win over more GOP senators, conservatives, led by Cotton and Kennedy, are expected to get votes on three amendments. 

Cotton, in a National Review op-ed published Monday, said his potential changes would help "limit the damage" and conservatives who had already said they would support the bill "have jumped on the bandwagon too soon."

"A number of serious felonies, including violent crimes, are still eligible for early release in the version of the bill the Senate will vote on in a matter of days. In short, the First Step Act flunks their basic test to protect public safety," Cotton wrote. 

He added in a separate tweet that opponents to his amendments were circulating false claims about his proposed changes. 

Cotton and Kennedy’s changes would including requiring that the victims or families of victims are notified when an individual is released. Another change would be to make publicly available rearrest data for those released, as well as information on prior offenses by those released and the crimes for which they were imprisoned.

The Kennedy-Cotton amendments would also add approximately 10 offenses to a list that excludes someone from being eligible for the bill’s earned-time credits, which could be used to shorten sentences.

Toomey said in a statement that he was still weighing supporting the bill but voted no on Monday because it will block senators from voting on an amendment that he wanted to offer. 

“The First Step Act contains worthwhile provisions that seek to improve the criminal justice system and reduce offender recidivism, which is why I am seriously considering supporting it. However, today’s procedural vote was designed to preclude amendments, including one I intended to offer to support victims of crime," Toomey said. 

The amendment votes are expected to be held with a simple majority threshold, meaning at least a few GOP senators would need to join with all Democrats to block them from getting added to the bill. 

Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinProblem Solvers Caucus co-chair calls Trump comments about progressive congresswomen 'totally unacceptable' Trump's tweets unify a fractured Democratic Party Sunday shows - Immigration raids dominate MORE (D-Ill.), who helped craft the deal along with Sens. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyAdvocates frustrated over pace of drug price reform Trump drug pricing setbacks put pressure on Congress Hillicon Valley: Trump rails against 'terrible bias' at White House social media summit | Twitter hit by hour-long outage | Google admits workers listen to smart device recordings MORE (R-Iowa) and Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeFairness for High Skilled Immigrants Act exposes Silicon Valley's hollow diversity slogans Overnight Defense: Senate rejects effort to restrict Trump on Iran | Democrats at debate vow to shore up NATO | Senate confirms chief of Space Command Senate sets new voting record with Iran war measure MORE (R-Utah), warned that, as currently drafted, he believes Cotton's amendments are "poison pills" meant to undercut the legislation as a whole.

"The amendments that he will propose tomorrow, the senator from Arkansas, have been opposed by groups across the board, left and right, conservative, progressive, Republican, Democrat, they all oppose his amendments. ... If he goes with the amendments we've seen, we're going to have to do our best to oppose him," Durbin said.