Senate passes criminal justice overhaul, handing Trump a win

The Senate passed a bipartisan criminal justice reform bill on Tuesday night, handing a significant victory to President TrumpDonald John TrumpVeterans groups demand end to shutdown: 'Get your act together' Brown launches tour in four early nominating states amid 2020 consideration Pence on border wall: Trump won't be ‘deterred’ by Dem ‘obstruction’ MORE and senators who lobbied to advance the legislation before the end of the year.

Senators voted 87-12 on the legislation, which merges a House-passed prison reform bill aimed at reducing recidivism with a handful of changes to sentencing laws and mandatory minimum prison sentences.

Its passage is also a win for Jared KushnerJared Corey Kushner'Vice' director shrugs off report that Ivanka and Jared walked out of screening Chris Christie claims Jared Kushner enacted 'hit job' as revenge for prosecuting father White House announces reduced delegation to travel to Davos amid shutdown MORE, Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, who took on criminal justice reform as one of his primary policy goals and who has lobbied individual senators to back the bill for months.

Conservative lawmakers had scrambled to make changes to the White House-backed bill ahead of the vote Tuesday night. Twelve Republican senators ended up voting against the measure despite Trump’s support.

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The bill still needs to clear the House, which starts back in session on Wednesday, before it can go to Trump’s desk for a signature. Advocates believe it will get a vote in the lower chamber as soon as Thursday as lawmakers aim to wrap up their work this week before leaving town for the holiday recess.

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanHouse vote fails to quell storm surrounding Steve King House passes resolution condemning white nationalism Anti-Defamation League calls on House leaders to censure Steve King over white supremacy comments MORE (R-Wis.) indicated after the Senate vote that the House would take it up before the end of the year.

"Criminal justice reform is about giving more Americans a chance at redemption. The House looks forward to sending it to the president to become law," he said in a tweet

Trump quickly touted passage of the legislation in the Senate on Tuesday night, tweeting that the bill "will keep our communities safer, and provide hope and a second chance, to those who earn it."

Senate passage of the criminal justice bill is a major victory for advocates following years of legislative limbo for such bills amid vocal opposition from conservatives and an indifferent reception from GOP leadership. Republicans appeared poised as recently as this month to punt the bill to 2019 amid deep divisions in the GOP caucus and a tight floor schedule.

Supporters got a major break in November when Trump endorsed the bill, calling it “tough on crime” and telling lawmakers he was “waiting with a pen” to sign the legislation. He doubled down earlier this month on urging Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOn The Money: Shutdown Day 25 | Dems reject White House invite for talks | Leaders nix recess with no deal | McConnell blocks second House Dem funding bill | IRS workers called back for tax-filing season | Senate bucks Trump on Russia sanctions Mellman: Why does the GOP persist? Leaders nix recess with no shutdown deal in sight MORE (R-Ky.) to bring the bill for a vote before the end of the year, saying in a tweet, “Go for it Mitch!”

Those backing the bill touted the president's support for the legislation, pledging that criminal justice reform would give the White House a major bipartisan win before Republicans lose their unified government starting in January.

Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyThe Hill’s 12:30 Report: Trump AG pick Barr grilled at hearing | Judge rules against census citizenship question | McConnell blocks second House bill to reopen government Five things to watch during Barr’s confirmation hearing McConnell rebukes Steve King over white nationalist comments MORE (R-Iowa), the outgoing chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said even Trump — “who has a reputation for being tough on crime” — supported the bill because he realized there was “unfairness” within the judicial system and that Republicans could be both “tough on crime” but also “fair on crime.”

“This is an opportunity for a Republican majority in the United States Senate to show that this Republican president can do something that even President Obama couldn’t get done,” Grassley said Tuesday, adding that passage of the bill is a “big, bipartisan legislative accomplishment” for the president.

Senators have been negotiating on a potential criminal justice deal for months, working closely with Kushner.

For a group of conservative senators, Trump’s backing wasn’t enough to quell their opposition to the bill. In the end, 12 GOP senators voted against the bill: John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoEPA's Wheeler faces grilling over rule rollbacks Action on climate and energy: Beyond partisan talking points Overnight Energy: House votes to reopen Interior, EPA | Dems question EPA over Wheeler confirmation prep | Virginia Dem backs Green New Deal MORE (Wyo.), Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonOvernight Defense: Trump faces blowback over report he discussed leaving NATO | Pentagon extends mission on border | Senate advances measure bucking Trump on Russia sanctions Senate advances measure bucking Trump on Russia sanctions How not to withdraw from Syria MORE (Ark.), Mike EnziMichael (Mike) Bradley EnziSenate passes criminal justice overhaul, handing Trump a win Senate votes to end debate on criminal justice reform bill America needs more accountants in Congress MORE (Wyo.), John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (La.), Jon Kyl (Ariz.), Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiLeaders nix recess with no shutdown deal in sight McConnell: Senate will not recess if government still shutdown Kaine threatens to object to Senate leaving for recess MORE (Alaska), Jim RischJames (Jim) Elroy RischCongress poised to push back at Trump on Saudi Arabia, Syria Senate poised to rebut Trump on Syria Trump's military moves accelerate GOP search for next McCain MORE (Idaho), Ben SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric Sasse5 takeaways from Barr’s testimony Overnight Defense: Trump faces blowback over report he discussed leaving NATO | Pentagon extends mission on border | Senate advances measure bucking Trump on Russia sanctions Senate advances measure bucking Trump on Russia sanctions MORE (Neb.), Dan SullivanDaniel Scott SullivanGOP reasserts NATO support after report on Trump’s wavering China and Big Tech pose threats to our democracy, but we have the power to regulate one Hillicon Valley: Apple drives rough day for markets | Senate confirms FCC nominees | Federal elections agency back to full strength | China lands craft on far side of the moon MORE (Alaska), Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioOvernight Defense: Trump faces blowback over report he discussed leaving NATO | Pentagon extends mission on border | Senate advances measure bucking Trump on Russia sanctions Senate advances measure bucking Trump on Russia sanctions Rubio slams NY Times for 'absurd criticism' of Bolton over Iran MORE (Fla.), Mike RoundsMarion (Mike) Michael RoundsNative American group denounces Trump for using Wounded Knee in attack against Warren GOP senators rebuke Trump for using 'Wounded Knee' as 'punchline' Overnight Defense: Senators say questions remain after Syria briefing | Trump inches closer to declaring emergency to build wall | Air Force accepts Boeing tankers despite flaws MORE (S.D.) and Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyLeaders nix recess with no shutdown deal in sight Trump, Congress break record for longest shutdown Senate immigration talks fall apart MORE (Ala.). 

Senators on Tuesday also voted down several floated changes from Cotton and Kennedy, who were the bill's biggest opponents in the Senate.

Cotton argued that his amendments were in line with the intent of the bill and would “fix some of the worst part of the bill.” But, he added, he still believed the legislation is “deeply unwise” and would result in the “early release from prison thousands of serious, repeat and potentially violent felons over the next few months.”

“There are very modest amendments. The are consistent with the rhetoric of the bill’s sponsors. I know that some of the sponsors have said this is a poison pill. I frankly don’t see why. It is consistent with their own rhetoric,” Cotton said.

Kennedy separately told reporters that he wouldn’t support the bill even if his amendments were added, saying, “I just think the approach is wrong.”

The Cotton-Kennedy amendments 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 the 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.

But each of their amendments was rejected with more than a dozen GOP senators joining with Democrats to block them from getting added to the bill, warning that their inclusion would threaten support for the legislation and likely sink its chances of passing the Senate.

No Democrats voted for Cotton and Kennedy's proposed changes on Tuesday night and Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinTrump AG pick: I won't be 'bullied' by anyone, including the president Live coverage: Trump AG pick grilled on Mueller probe at confirmation hearing Senate Dems set to take aim at new Trump attorney general pick MORE (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat, warned the caucus was “overwhelmingly opposed” to them.

The criminal justice fight put a spotlight on the sort of GOP divisions leadership generally tries to avoid. And McConnell, who ended up voting for the bill, acknowledged earlier Tuesday that some members of his caucus continued to have “outstanding concerns that the bill currently leaves unaddressed.”

Grassley tried to bring up an amendment that included changes for faith-based groups, would add additional crimes that exclude an individual from earning credits that reduce a sentence, extend an independent review committee tasked with overseeing implementation of the bill from two to five years and require annual supports.

The amendment would have worked in requested changes from GOP Sens. James LankfordJames Paul LankfordWhat the government shutdown means for our nation’s cybersecurity GOP senators challenge Trump on shutdown strategy GOP senator: No border security plan without a wall MORE (Okla.) and Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward Cruz5 takeaways from Barr’s testimony Republicans seek to temper fallout from latest Russia bombshells Cruz says Americans outside Beltway unconcerned with Mueller investigation MORE (Texas) that are considered noncontroversial by both sides, but Kennedy objected because of the extension of the review committee.

“If you believe our sentencing laws are unjust then I am prepared to stay here night and day through Christmas and let’s debate them and fix them,” he said. “But that’s not what this is doing. What this is doing is giving away all our authority as United States senators to nameless bureaucrats.”

Instead they approved an amendment advocated by Lankford that only included the changes for faith-based groups and the additional exclusions on what criminals are eligible for the earned-time credits, requested by Cruz.

Drafters of the legislation said they thought they had included the changes in a revised bill they rolled out last week, but acknowledged after filing it that the provisions for Lankford and Cruz were left out and instead would have to be added on the floor.

The Senate’s passage of the criminal justice bill is years in the making. Grassley and Durbin led a bipartisan group of senators who introduced a broader sentencing and prison reform bill in 2015, only to see the legislation go nowhere despite believing they had 60 votes.

Supporters blamed the standstill on leadership not wanting to highlight GOP divisions heading into the 2016 election, when they were defending two dozen Senate seats.

They reintroduced the bill in 2017 but acknowledged they had an uphill climb with Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard Sessions5 takeaways from Barr’s testimony AG pick Barr emphasizes independence from Trump Hillicon Valley: Trump AG pick signals new scrutiny on tech giants | Wireless providers in new privacy storm | SEC brings charges in agency hack | Facebook to invest 0M in local news MORE, who had been a vocal Senate opponent to the bill, as attorney general and Trump in the White House. And they were at a standstill with the House for months, which passed a prison reform only bill earlier this year.

Durbin and Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony Booker5 takeaways from Barr’s testimony Booker presses Barr on impact of mass incarceration on black Americans Barr: I wouldn't go after businesses relying on Obama-era marijuana policy MORE (D-N.J.) have also been furiously working to build Democratic support for the bill amid public concerns that Trump’s endorsement of the bill could spark backlash from several Democrats eyeing White House bids in 2020.

No Democrats voted against the bill on Tuesday night.

“We’ve worked long and hard on this. We’ve had policy groups, prosecutors, civil liberties groups. All have carefully reviewed this. No one is getting what they wanted completely. This is a product of compromise. But that’s how you pass a bill in the United States Senate,” Durbin said. 

Updated: 9:10 p.m.