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 TrumpSenate GOP budget ignores Trump, cuts defense Trump says he'll nominate Stephen Moore to Fed White House: ISIS territory in Syria has been 100 percent eliminated MORE endorsing the measure in November: Sens. John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoTrump: Green New Deal 'the most preposterous thing' and 'easy to beat' This week: Trump set for Senate setback on emergency declaration We should end tax giveaways to electric vehicle owners MORE (Wyo.), Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrGOP's Tillis comes under pressure for taking on Trump Warner says there are 'enormous amounts of evidence' suggesting Russia collusion McCarthy dismisses Democrat's plans: 'Show me where the president did anything to be impeached' MORE (N.C.), Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonSenate rejects border declaration in major rebuke of Trump Hillicon Valley: Doctors press tech to crack down on anti-vax content | Facebook, Instagram suffer widespread outages | Spotify hits Apple with antitrust complaint | FCC rejects calls to delay 5G auction Senate votes to confirm Neomi Rao to appeals court MORE (Ark.), Mike EnziMichael (Mike) Bradley EnziSenate GOP budget ignores Trump, cuts defense Progressives seek defense freeze in budget talks Five takeaways from Trump's budget MORE (Wyo.), John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (La.), Jon Kyl (Ariz.), Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiRed dresses displayed around American Indian museum to memorialize missing, murdered native women Juan Williams: Don't rule out impeaching Trump The 25 Republicans who defied Trump on emergency declaration MORE (Alaska), Jim RischJames (Jim) Elroy RischTrump pick for Saudi ambassador defends US relationship with Riyadh Briefing calms senators' nerves after Trump-Kim summit Chris Evans talks NATO, Marvel secrets on Capitol Hill MORE (Idaho), Ben SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric SasseTrump approves Nebraska disaster declaration Nebraska lawmakers urge Trump to approve disaster funding Republicans up for reelection fear daylight with Trump MORE (Neb.), Dan SullivanDaniel Scott SullivanRepublicans defend McCain amid Trump attacks Overnight Defense: Senate rejects border emergency in rebuke to Trump | Acting Pentagon chief grilled on wall funding | Warren confronts chief over war fund budget Pentagon chief calls reports of charges to allies erroneous: 'We won't do cost plus 50' MORE (Alaska), Mike RoundsMarion (Mike) Michael RoundsGOP moves to rein in president's emergency powers Trump's emergency declaration looms over Pentagon funding fight Overnight Defense: Pentagon asked to house up to 5,000 migrant children | Judge lifts last injunction against transgender ban | Senators voice anger over problems with military housing | General warns ISIS waiting to resurge MORE (S.D.) and Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyOvernight 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 Top GOP candidate drops out of Ohio Senate race MORE (Pa.).

ADVERTISEMENT

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 McConnellTrump: Green New Deal 'the most preposterous thing' and 'easy to beat' 2020 Dems avoid this year's AIPAC conference GOP eager to exploit Dem court-packing fight 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 DurbinSenate Dems petition Saudi king to release dissidents, US citizen GOP moves to rein in president's emergency powers Senate votes to confirm Neomi Rao to appeals court MORE (D-Ill.), who helped craft the deal along with Sens. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyOvernight Health Care: Senators seek CBO input on preventing surprise medical bills | Oversight panel seeks OxyContin documents | Pharmacy middlemen to testify on prices | Watchdog warns air ambulances can put patients at 'financial risk' Drug prices are a matter of life and death Senate panel to hear from pharmacy middlemen on drug prices MORE (R-Iowa) and Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeStop asking parents to sacrifice Social Security benefits for paid family leave The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump hits media over New Zealand coverage GOP moves to rein in president's emergency powers 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.