McCon­nell blocks vote on sen­tenc­ing bill

The Reporter (Lansdale, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Lisa Mas­caro and Kevin Frek­ing

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.

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 is re­fus­ing to bring the leg­is­la­tion for­ward in a stand­off that’s di­vid­ing the Repub­li­can ma­jor­ity and putting Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump on the spot.

“We’ve done what needs to be done,” Grass­ley said about the over­whelm­ing sup­port for the bill. “So what’s hold­ing it up?”

For the 85-year-old chair­man of the Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, this is not the way 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. Trump backs the crim­i­nal jus­tice bill, too, but 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.

“What’s so ir­ri­tat­ing about this is, first of all, he and I have been hand-in­glove work­ing to get the ju­di­ciary va­can­cies filled,” Grass­ley told Iowa re­porters.

“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.

On Fri­day, Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham, R-S.C., in­ter­vened, talk­ing di­rectly to Trump about at­tach­ing the crim­i­nal jus­tice leg­is­la­tion to the must-pass 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 year-end spend­ing bill which must in­clude MORE wall fund­ing.”

Trump has called sen­a­tors about the bill and spoke briefly 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.

“If the jail­break bill gets stuck in the spend­ing bill, ev­ery­one bring your stock­ings to the Se­nate, be­cause we’ll be there on Christ­mas!”

Cot­ton and oth­ers, in­clud­ing Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, No. 2 Se­nate Repub­li­can, in­sist there is not as much sup­port for the bill as Grass­ley claims. Cot­ton says sen­a­tors may tell the chair­man they’re in fa­vor of it when ac­tu­ally they’re not.

The bill has sup­port from sev­eral con­ser­va­tive and lib­eral ad­vo­cacy groups, unit­ing such dis­parate part­ners as the in­flu­en­tial Koch net­work and the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­erty Union, but it splits law en­force­ment groups. It is backed by the Fra­ter­nal Or­der of Po­lice and the In­ter­na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Chiefs of Po­lice but op­posed by the Na­tional Sher­iff’s As­so­ci­a­tion.

Amid this di­vide, McCon­nell has been choos­ing cau­tion, say­ing there’s just not enough time to push the bill for­ward in the re­main­ing days of the Congress.

“The ques­tion is, can you shoe-horn some­thing that’s ex­tremely con­tro­ver­sial into the re­main­ing time?” he said Mon­day in an in­ter­view at a Wall Street Jour­nal fo­rum.

Crim­i­nal jus­tice re­form has tra­di­tion­ally been a Demo­cratic pri­or­ity, as Repub­li­cans pre­fer a more tough-on-crime ap­proach.


Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, R-Ky., fin­ishes speak­ing to re­porters at the Capi­tol in Washington.


On Sept, 28, Sen. Chuck Grass­ley of Iowa chairs a Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee meeting on Capi­tol Hill in Washington.

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