McConnell Agreed to a Vote Senators Wanted for 3 Years

After pressure from Trump, McConnell will bring criminal justice bill to the floor
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 11, 2018 11:16 AM CST
McConnell Agreed to a Vote Senators Wanted for 3 Years
In this Oct. 6, 2018, file photo, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., finishes speaking to reporters at the Capitol in Washington.   (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Under pressure from President Trump and many of his Republican colleagues, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that he will bring legislation to the floor as soon as this week to overhaul the nation's sentencing laws. McConnell's decision comes after more than three years of overtures from a large, bipartisan group of senators who support the criminal justice bill, including Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley and House Speaker Paul Ryan. Trump announced his support for the legislation last month, but McConnell only cautiously said the bill was among a number of competing priorities for the lame-duck session. The key things to know, per the AP:

  • Texas Sen. John Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican, said Trump's push for the legislation (the president tweeted about it last week) had been "critical to the outcome here ... the president was insistent that this be included."
  • If the legislation passes, it could be a rare bipartisan policy achievement for this Congress and the largest sentencing overhaul in decades.
  • Most Democrats support the bill, which would revise 1980s and '90s-era "tough on crime" laws to boost rehabilitation efforts for federal prisoners and give judges more discretion when sentencing nonviolent offenders, particularly for drug offenses. Supporters say the changes would make the nation's criminal justice system fairer, reduce overcrowding in federal prisons, and save taxpayer dollars.
  • The legislation has been a priority for Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who has worked behind the scenes with supportive Republican senators over the last two years and pushed Trump to support it. It was also a top issue for former President Barack Obama, who had hoped to see the bill become law before he left office.
  • Supporters have long said that the bill would pass if McConnell would just put it on the floor. But McConnell appeared to have concerns that it would divide his caucus. One vocal GOP opponent, Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, has criticized the bill as allowing for early release of serious and repeat felons.
  • It's unclear how long it will take to move the bill. McConnell said senators should be prepared to stay in session the week following Christmas if necessary to complete their work.
(More sentencing stories.)

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