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 TrumpCDC updates website to remove dosage guidance on drug touted by Trump Trump says he'd like economy to reopen 'with a big bang' but acknowledges it may be limited Graham backs Trump, vows no money for WHO in next funding bill MORE endorsing the measure in November: Sens. John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoOvernight Energy: Trump rolls back Obama-era fuel efficiency standards | Controversial Keystone XL construction to proceed | Pressure mounts to close national parks amid pandemic Critics blast Trump mileage rollback, citing environment and health concerns Lobbying world MORE (Wyo.), Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrTrump takes heat for firing intel watchdog during pandemic COVID-19 and the coming corruption pandemic Burr says intelligence watchdog should be 'independent' after inspector general firing MORE (N.C.), Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonTrump's ambitious infrastructure vision faces Senate GOP roadblock  GOP lawmaker touts bill prohibiting purchases of drugs made in China Wisconsin Republican says US must not rely on China for critical supplies MORE (Ark.), Mike EnziMichael (Mike) Bradley EnziThe Hill's Morning Report - Can Sanders be stopped? Lawmakers trade insults over Trump budget cuts Republicans scramble to avoid Medicare land mine MORE (Wyo.), John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (La.), Jon Kyl (Ariz.), Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiLawmakers announce legislation to fund government purchases of oil Oil giants meet at White House amid talk of buying strategic reserves GOP senators begin informal talks on new coronavirus stimulus MORE (Alaska), Jim RischJames (Jim) Elroy RischTensions boil over on Senate floor amid coronavirus debate  Overnight Defense: Pentagon confirms Iran behind recent rocket attack | Esper says 'all options on the table' | Military restricts service member travel over coronavirus Graham warns of 'aggressive' response to Iran-backed rocket attack that killed US troops MORE (Idaho), Ben SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric SasseAmerica's governors should fix unemployment insurance Mnuchin emerges as key asset in Trump's war against coronavirus House Republican urges Pompeo to take steps to limit misinformation from China on coronavirus MORE (Neb.), Dan SullivanDaniel Scott SullivanLawmakers announce legislation to fund government purchases of oil Pelosi, McConnell clash over next coronavirus bill GOP senators begin informal talks on new coronavirus stimulus MORE (Alaska), Mike RoundsMarion (Mike) Michael RoundsGOP senators begin informal talks on new coronavirus stimulus Five things being discussed for a new coronavirus relief bill Senate GOP expects vote on third coronavirus package next week 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 McConnellLawmakers outline proposals for virtual voting Overnight Health Care: Trump calls report on hospital shortages 'another fake dossier' | Trump weighs freezing funding to WHO | NY sees another 731 deaths | States battle for supplies | McConnell, Schumer headed for clash Phase-four virus relief hits a wall 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 DurbinHillicon Valley: Schiff presses intel chief on staff changes | Warren offers plan to secure elections | Twitter's Jack Dorsey to donate B to coronavirus fight | WhatsApp takes steps to counter virus misinformation WhatsApp limiting message forwarding in effort to stop coronavirus misinformation Democrats ask EPA, Interior to pause rulemaking amid coronavirus MORE (D-Ill.), who helped craft the deal along with Sens. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyPresident tightens grip on federal watchdogs Officials sound alarm over virus relief check scams Trump takes heat for firing intel watchdog during pandemic MORE (R-Iowa) and Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeJustice IG pours fuel on looming fight over FISA court Senator Tom Coburn's government oversight legacy Trump on Romney's negative coronavirus test: 'I am so happy I can barely speak' 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.