Lame-duck Congress should pass First Step Act

The Senate has agreed to a vote on a version of a bill supported by President Donald J. Trump, called the First Step Act. That bill is part of a criminal justice reform effort that includes steps by President TrumpDonald John TrumpPompeo changes staff for Russia meeting after concerns raised about top negotiator's ties: report House unravels with rise of 'Les Enfants Terrible' Ben Carson: Trump is not a racist and his comments were not racist MORE, through executive action, to reform our broken criminal justice system.  The Hill reports that “Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Hill's Morning Report - A raucous debate on race ends with Trump admonishment White House, Congress inch toward debt, budget deal Republicans scramble to contain Trump fallout MORE (R-Ky.) said on Tuesday that he will bring up a bipartisan criminal justice bill for a vote, marking a significant win for supporters including President Trump.” This is yet another victory for President Trump.

On Nov. 14 the Trump administration released a statement on why the legislation is necessary. The White House argued that this bill is “a true first step in creating a fairer justice system by reforming mandatory minimums, which have created racially discriminatory outcomes and increased overcrowding and costs,” by reducing “the enhanced penalties for certain non-violent repeat drug offenders and eliminat(ing) the three-strike mandatory life provision” while also allowing that “certain nonviolent offenders will be able to petition courts for a review of their sentence, which can be reduced only after the judge reviews all circumstances, including public safety, criminal history, and the nature of the offense.”

This is common-sense legislation to reform the overcriminalization that has put the federal government in the position of encouraging longer prison terms than necessary.

ADVERTISEMENT

This bill has wide bipartisan support, and it should have passed earlier this year. The bill passed the House by a 360-59 vote in May and, although the bill was stalled in the Senate, reports indicate the Senate will take up a version before the end of the year. The bill had the support of 226 House Republicans, with only two voting against it, yet some Republicans in the Senate slow-walked consideration of it. The Senate version has 31 cosponsors, and a modified version will easily pass the Senate.

Conservative supporters of President Trump deserve credit for forcing the Senate to consider this measure. Sens. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulSenate ratifies long-stalled tax treaty On The Money: Senators unload on Facebook cryptocurrency | Tech giants on defensive at antitrust hearing | Democrats ask Labor Department to investigate Amazon warehouses The buck stops here: How to restore accountability to the federal regulatory system MORE (R-Ky.), Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump digs in ahead of House vote to condemn tweet Why Trump's bigoted tropes won't work in 2020 The Memo: Toxic 2020 is unavoidable conclusion from Trump tweets MORE (R-S.C.), Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyThe peculiar priorities of Adam Schiff Advocates frustrated over pace of drug price reform Trump drug pricing setbacks put pressure on Congress MORE (R-Iowa) and Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeSenate ratifies long-stalled tax treaty On The Money: Senators unload on Facebook cryptocurrency | Tech giants on defensive at antitrust hearing | Democrats ask Labor Department to investigate Amazon warehouses Liberal think tank: GOP paid parental leave proposals are too narrow MORE (R-Utah) have voiced support to take a vote during the lame-duck session and it appears that Leader McConnell has agreed to allow a vote. According to Politico, House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanOcasio-Cortez top aide emerges as lightning rod amid Democratic feud Juan Williams: GOP in a panic over Mueller House Republicans dismissive of Paul Ryan's take on Trump MORE (R-Wis.) had considered passing a narrower version of the bill or attaching the legislation to an end-of-year spending bill to force the Senate to consider it this year. Now that the Senate has agreed to a vote, that strategy is unnecessary.

President Trump can take credit for this victory and has made the case that “our whole Nation benefits if former inmates are able to reenter society as productive, law-abiding citizens.” The White House cites the fact that “our prisons can do much more to prepare inmates for release, addressing the fact that roughly 77 percent of State inmates and 38 percent of Federal inmates are rearrested within five years of release.” Kay Coles James, president of the conservative Heritage Foundation, released a statement on Nov. 15 stating support for the idea of criminal justice reform, saying: “The First Step Act will increase public safety, strengthen families, and give incarcerated people a chance to flourish after they’ve paid their debt to society. It is time to end the revolving-door our federal prisons have become and put those who are willing to work for a second chance back on the path toward reaching their full potential.”

Conservatives support reforms that will help released prisoners to change their lives and become productive members of society.

It is a core value of conservatism that the federal government should allow the states to handle the police powers of government. Reforming the way the federal government encourages long prison terms with mandatory minimum sentences does not provide fairness to some who are accused of crimes but don’t warrant a long prison term. Furthermore, it is reasonable to prepare for prisoners reentering society to have some opportunity to reform themselves and participate as citizens after release. The president met with Kim Kardashian and Kanye West earlier this year to discuss a commutation for Alice Marie Johnson, who received a life sentence for a first-time non-violent cocaine trafficking charge.

ADVERTISEMENT

The media will largely ignore this victory for President Trump in inspiring a bipartisan effort to reform the criminal justice system, because the media are devoted to pushing negative news about the Trump administration. According to The Hill, a new compromise version of the bill includes “expanding the list of crimes that exclude an individual from the bill’s ‘earned time’ credits, which shave time off a prison sentence. Senators are also discussing eliminating a ‘safety valve’ portion of the bill which gives judges some discretion in going around mandatory minimums.” These issues can be revisited in the next Congress to further implement the ideas of the First Step Act, but this bill is a good first step at reforming a system in dire need of fixes.

Chalk up another victory for President Donald J. Trump, yet don’t expect any favorable words from a party led by Democratic Socialists who are intent on sabotaging the Trump presidency.

Corey R. Lewandowski (@CLewandowski_) served as a campaign manager to Donald J. Trump, the 45th president of the United States, and is a senior adviser to the Great America Committee, Vice President Mike Pence's political action committee. He is co-author with David Bossie of the new book, “Trump’s Enemies,” and of “Let Trump Be Trump: The Inside Story of His Rise to the Presidency.”