Pres­i­dent prods McCon­nell on sen­tenc­ing bill

Orlando Sentinel - - NATION & WORLD - By Lisa Mas­caro and Kevin Frek­ing

WASH­ING­TON — Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell’s re­luc­tance to hold a vote on a pop­u­lar crim­i­nal jus­tice bill has an­gered top Repub­li­can sen­a­tors and cre­ated an un­usual rift with a long­time GOP ally, Sen. Chuck Grass­ley of Iowa.

On Fri­day, it also brought a tweet from Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

“Hope­fully Mitch McCon­nell will ask for a VOTE on Crim­i­nal Jus­tice Re­form,” Trump tweeted. “It is ex­tremely pop­u­lar and has strong bi­par­ti­san sup­port. It will also help a lot of peo­ple, save tax­payer dol­lars, and keep our com­mu­ni­ties safe. Go for it Mitch!”

Min­utes later Grass­ley tweeted that he and the pres­i­dent had spo­ken about “the grow­ing sup­port” for the leg­is­la­tion.

“Pres Trump told me he wants it done THIS CONGRESS,” Grass­ley tweeted.

Grass­ley has spent years work­ing to build a coali­tion around the bill and is push­ing for a year-end vote.

Grass­ley says more than two-thirds of the Se­nate sup­ports it.

But McCon­nell de­clines to bring the leg­is­la­tion for­ward in a stand­off that’s di­vid­ing the Repub­li­can ma­jor­ity and putting Trump on the spot.

For Grass­ley, the 85-yearold chair­man of the Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, this is not the way the Se­nate is sup­posed to op­er­ate.

Grass­ley was ex­pect­ing some def­er­ence from McCon­nell af­ter de­liv­er­ing on Trump’s ju­di­cial nom­i­nees — in­clud­ing two now on the Supreme Court. De­spite Trump’s sup­port for the mea­sure, McCon­nell says it’s di­vi­sive. His re­luc­tance to take up Grass­ley’s pri­or­ity shows the lim­its of the Se­nate’s old-fash­ioned cus­toms in an era of height­ened par­ti­san pol­i­tics.

“I think I ought to have some con­sid­er­a­tion for de­liv­er­ing on tough Supreme Court nom­i­nees, and a lot of tough cir­cuit court nom­i­nees and maybe even once in a while you get a tough dis­trict court nom­i­nee,” Grass­ley went on.

Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham, RS.C., in­ter­vened Fri­day, talk­ing di­rectly to Trump about at­tach­ing the crim­i­nal jus­tice leg­is­la­tion to the must­pass year-end spend­ing bill, which is al­ready tan­gled in a sep­a­rate fight over funds for the border wall with Mex­ico.

“Just talked with Pres­i­dent,” Gra­ham tweeted. “He strongly be­lieves crim­i­nal jus­tice re­form bill must pass now. He also in­di­cated he sup­ports putting crim­i­nal jus­tice re­form bill on yearend spend­ing bill which must in­clude MORE wall fund­ing.”

Trump has called sen­a­tors about the bill and spoke about it Fri­day at an event on safe neigh­bor­hoods in Kansas City.

The bill is a pro­ject of Trump’s son-in-law, White House ad­viser Jared Kush­ner, and would be the big­gest sen­tenc­ing over­haul in decades. It would re­duce manda­tory prison terms for cer­tain drug crimes and give judges in some cases more dis­cre­tion on pun­ish­ments. It would al­low about 2,600 fed­eral pris­on­ers sen­tenced for crack co­caine of­fenses be­fore Au­gust 2010 the op­por­tu­nity to pe­ti­tion for a re­duced penalty.

It also in­cludes pro­vi­sions to en­cour­age ed­u­ca­tion and work­force train­ing in pris­ons.

Roughly 90 per­cent of prison in­mates are held in state fa­cil­i­ties and would not be af­fected by the leg­is­la­tion.

While Kush­ner has been meet­ing with sen­a­tors on Capi­tol Hill, Trump is also hear­ing from al­lies who are against the leg­is­la­tion. Chief among them is Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., who is warn­ing sen­a­tors that Repub­li­cans will be blamed if crim­i­nals are re­leased and com­mit new crimes.

“Only thing worse than early re­lease from prison of thou­sands of se­ri­ous, violent, & re­peat felons is to do that in a spend­ing bill with no de­bate or amend­ments, forc­ing sen­a­tors to ei­ther shut down gov­ern­ment or let felons out of prison,” Cotton tweeted Fri­day.

The spend­ing bill will need ap­proval by Dec. 21 to avoid a fund­ing lapse days be­fore Christ­mas.

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