Criminal Justice

McConnell Says He Will Bring Criminal Justice Bill to Senate Floor for Vote

After weeks of pressure from the White House and fellow Republicans, Mitch McConnell says he will schedule a vote for the FIRST STEP Act.

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LEAH MILLIS/REUTERS/Newscom

Under pressure from the White House and a number of his fellow Republicans, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said today he will bring a major criminal justice bill, the FIRST STEP Act, to the Senate floor for a vote as early as the end of the week.

"At the request of the president and following improvements to the legislation that have been secured by several members, the Senate will take up the recently-revised criminal justice bill this month," McConnell said in a floor speech this morning. "I intend to turn to the new text as early as the end of this week."

The bill, which is backed by the Trump White House, a number of police groups, and a bipartisan coalition of criminal justice advocacy organizations, would expand reentry and job training opportunities for federal inmates. It also includes four modest changes to federal sentencing law that would reduce some mandatory minimum sentences and expand judges' discretion under the so-called "safety valve."

The FIRST STEP Act passed the House in May by a wide bipartisan margin, and earlier this year McConnell pledged to bring it to the Senate floor after November's midterm elections if it had more than 60 votes in its favor.

However, the legislation faced staunch opposition from conservative Republicans such as Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who dubbed it the "jailbreak" bill and warned it would result in the "early release" of violent criminals. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) argued Cotton's claims were, in the parlance of our times, fake news, leading to a rare intra-party spat between Senate Republicans.

Despite the insistence of the bill's authors, such as Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), that they had the votes, McConnell became noncommittal, citing the short window of time left in the legislative session.

In response, the bill's authors added more exceptions to the language—it had already been filled with exceptions to assuage law enforcement groups—gaining the support of other on-the-fence senators, such Ted Cruz (R-Tx.) and David Perdue (R-Ga.), who announced his support of the legislation last night. The White House has also been lobbying McConnell through regular channels, as well as the president's idiosyncratic tweets.

McConnell still wouldn't budge, however, leading to accusations from Grassley and others that Senate GOP leadership was intentionally undercounting the bill's support.

"Having led the fight on criminal justice reform for the past six years, I applaud Senator McConnell for scheduling this very important vote," Sen. Rand Paul said in a statement following McConnell's announcement. "This is bipartisan, has the support of President Donald J. Trump, and, simply put, makes common sense."

Supporters of the bill have predicted that it will easily pass the Senate if it comes to a vote, and now it appears they'll have their shot. Mark Holden, the general counsel of Koch Industries and the chairman of Freedom Partners, said in a statement to Reason that the FIRST STEP Act "is likely to receive overwhelming support from members of both parties on the Senate floor and we hope to see a vote scheduled as soon as possible."

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  1. Tom Cotton is an asshole.

    That is all.

    1. +1

    2. Tom Cotton keeps a little Filipino locked in his basement to do nothing but polish his jackboots. He has one of the largest collections of Nazi memorabilia down there, too. Not that he’s a Nazi, he just gets a tingle up his leg about a man in a sharp uniform and the Nazis had some of the sharpest.

  2. If you make him move too fast McConnell is going to break a hip.

  3. Cocaine Mitch finally caved.

  4. Hopefully the first of many steps towards criminal reform

  5. If Congress passes criminal justice reform at the urging of President Trump Radley Balko will cry before he sits down to write a fake news opinion piece on how criminal justice reform passed over Trump’s strong opposition.

  6. Well isn’t that just so wonderful of turtle boy to do his fucking job!

  7. Every time Tom Cotton comes up, he’s saying something utterly reprehensible. Talk about woodchipper fodder…

  8. This Libertarian Moment brought to you by Orange Man and the Deplorables who voted for him, over Reason’s hysterical pants shitting objections.

    You’re welcome.

    1. I’m really hoping Trump deschedules teh weed and pulls most of our forces from Afghanistan just in time for Reason‘s endorsement of Flake/Weld in 2020

  9. Has anyone read the bill? How many pages? Does it include the George Bush demand for the death sentence for potheads? More prisons? Kidnapping people overseas? What’s in it?

    1. Nobody really knows or cares.

      What we can be sure of, however, is that Congress is really pushing the envelope with the retarded acronyms. Since thing seems to be inventing post hoc names to fit your preordained acronym, I’ve come up with an alternate:

      Fuck Ignorant Representatives Sideways Till Shit Tumbles Everywhere Paroxysmically Act

      1. Thank you, that was some desperately needed deacronymization. I don’t know if it was giving up or losing interest but I could only get like a third of the way through before forgetting what I was doing. Do OBAMACARE next!

  10. Criminal Justice Reform Bill?

    “Thanks Obama” – Suderman probably

  11. If they made changes to get Cotton, Cruz, and Perdue on board, we can rest assured that it got stoopider.

    1. Of course it has the backing of big chicken.

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