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Advocates push for floor vote on criminal justice reform

Advocates are making a final push for a vote on the Senate’s criminal justice reform bill in the last weeks before lawmakers break for the holidays.

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights is working with the American Civil Liberties Union, NAACP and an interfaith criminal justice coalition organized by the United Methodist General Church of Board and Society to lobby both Democrats and Republicans into not only co-sponsoring the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 but also bringing it to the Senate floor for a vote.

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Sakira Cook, the group’s policy counsel, said 55 people from 22 states met with senators this week who voted against the bill in committee to try and change their minds. Those lawmakers included Sens. David Perdue (R-Ga.), Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchGOP leaders hesitant to challenge Trump on Saudi Arabia Congress should work with Trump and not 'cowboy' on Saudi Arabia, says GOP senator US to open trade talks with Japan, EU, UK MORE (R-Utah) and David VitterDavid Bruce VitterSenate panel advances Trump nominee who wouldn't say if Brown v. Board of Education was decided correctly Planned Parenthood targets judicial nominee over abortion comments Trump nominates wife of ex-Louisiana senator to be federal judge MORE (R-La.).

“We feel that if we put a human face to an issue we’re talking about across the country that hearts and minds start to turn in the direction of reform and transformative change,” she said.

The Leadership Conference also launched radio advertisements this week in three states — Missouri, Tennessee and Mississippi — that ask voters to call their senators and pressure them to support the legislation.

“The United States has more people locked up in prison than any nation on Earth, and too many of them are people of color,” the Tennessee ad says. “Congress is considering a law to deal with this problem and our senators, Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerOvernight Defense: Trump shifts tone on Saudis | New pressure from lawmakers | Trump: 'Certainly looks' like Khashoggi dead | Pompeo gives Saudis days to wrap up investigation | Trump threatens military action on border to stop migrants Trump changes tone on Saudi Arabia amid mounting pressure The Hill's 12:30 Report — Mnuchin won't attend Saudi conference | Pompeo advises giving Saudis 'few more days' to investigate | Trump threatens military action over caravan MORE and Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderOvernight Health Care — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Senate blocks Dem measure on short-term health plans | Trump signs bill banning drug price 'gag clauses' | DOJ approves Aetna-CVS merger | Juul ramps up lobbying Trump signs bills banning drug pricing 'gag clauses' Senate defeats measure to overturn Trump expansion of non-ObamaCare plans MORE, can make the difference.”

Cook said the Senate bill has enough bipartisan support to get to the floor for a vote, it’s just a matter of when.

“It’ll most likely get a vote early next year at this point,” she said.

Last month, President Obama announced new steps to help former prisoners reenter society as part of his push to overhaul the criminal justice system, including a rule change that asks federal job applicants about their criminal history later in the hiring process and additional grant funding to assist re-entry programs.

In remarks on the Senate floor Thursday, Sen. John CornynJohn CornynFive takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke debate showdown Live coverage: Cruz faces O'Rourke in Texas debate showdown Trump, Feinstein feud intensifies over appeals court nominees MORE (R-Texas) said he appreciates the president’s support on legislation that’s been years in the making.

“I don't agree with the president on a lot of things, perhaps most things, but I'm glad to know he is making this issue a priority,” he said. “And I really think it's one of those rare, magical moments where you see things coming together on a bipartisan basis across the political spectrum where we can actually make some real progress that will benefit the American people and make our criminal justice system fair and more effective.”

While the Senate Judiciary Committee member said he’s optimistic that lawmakers have found an area where they can work with the president and move this legislation forward, he gave no indication of when the bill might be voted on.

“All I would ask is that the president roll up his sleeves and work with us,” he said.