Free Minds & Free Markets

Trump Considers Tying Criminal Justice Reforms to Border Wall Funding

The FIRST STEP Act might get shoved into an end-of-year spending bill.

border wallThere appears to be enough bipartisan backing to pass some modest reforms to federal prison conditions and mandatory minimums. Even the Fox Broadcasting Company has put out a statement of support for the FIRST STEP Act. Yet the bill is still stuck in the Senate, and the future of federal criminal justice reform legislation remains unsettlingly cloudy.

President Donald Trump formally announced his support for the law in November, and it has already passed the House. But Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R–Ky.) says it might not get a floor vote until January. McConnell is being pressured by fellow conservatives who back the bill and say they know they have the votes to pass it, but a group of Republicans is apparently trying to remove some "safety valve" provisions that permit judges to deviate from mandatory minimum sentence guidelines in some cases. That safety valve has the potential to reduce the sentences of more than 2,000 defendants a year.

Trump reportedly has a plan to get the law passed. According to Sen. Lindsey Graham (R–S.C.), the president wants to shove the FIRST STEP Act into a year-end must-pass spending bill. Lawmakers just passed a stop-gap bill to continue funding the federal government for a couple more weeks. But that runs out right before Christmas.

Graham tweets:

In other words, Trump is trying to tie the FIRST STEP Act to funding for his border wall. He wants $5 billion to start the wall. Senate Democrats have said that they're willing to fund $1.6 billion for more border security but that they're not going to give Trump all the money he wants. And obviously, once the Democrats take over the House they're not going to give him the funds.

Republican Senators have introduced legislation to give Trump $25 billion for the wall, but that bill has no chance of going anywhere at all.

Trump's tactic here is not terribly unusual. Year-end "must pass" omnibus spending bills have become a depository for unrelated legislation when congressional leaders are struggling to pull together votes. Some of these bills wouldn't survive public scrutiny. Back in 2016, Reason explored several of the unrelated pieces of legislation that got dropped into a $1.1 trillion spending bill passed before the end of 2015.

So the big question here is whether the two demands can be separated. Could the FIRST STEP Act get tossed in the spending bill even if Democrats refuse any consideration of more border wall spending? And will Trump still support it in that case? If he's stubborn, could that actually cause politically ambitious Democratic senators like Kamala Harris of California and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts to turn against the FIRST STEP Act so they can use it as a bludgeon against Trump?

More on the contents of the FIRST STEP Act from Jacob Sullum here.

UPDATE: Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) who had been opposing the FIRST STEP Act (after previously supporting it) says he's back on board after an amendment was added to "exclude violent offenders from being released early." His statement is here.

UPDATE: This afternoon Trump (who promoted the FIRST STEP Act in a speech in St. Louis today) also tweeted his hopes that there'd be a Senate vote:

Photo Credit: Christopher Brown/ZUMA Press/Newscom

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  • OpenBordersLiberal-tarian||

    A border wall would be an even more egregious violation of human rights than anything Drumpf has done so far. Worse than colluding with a hostile foreign power to steal the Presidency from the most qualified candidate ever. Worse than literally ripping children from their parents' arms. Worse than trying to turn this country into The Handmaid's Tale through attacks on reproductive health services. We Koch / Reason libertarians must #Resist this proposed multi-billion dollar monument to white supremacy.


  • Ryan (formally HFTO)||

    Do you think the criminal justice system is working as is?

  • Wearenotperfect||

    I see what you're trying to do there. No meat on your hamburger 'til you apologize!

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    If he's stubborn, could that actually cause politically ambitious Democratic senators like Kamala Harris of California and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts to turn against the FIRST STEP Act so they can use it as a bludgeon against Trump?

    Seems like that bludgeoning could go both ways.

  • Sometimes a Great Notion||

    And we're all stuck in middle.

  • Leo Kovalensky II||

    IF he's stubborn, you say?

  • JoeB||

    Apparently, TDS interferes with the ability of REASON staff to, well, reason. Opposition to minority-friendly criminal justice reform by Kamala Harris et al could easily be turned against them. REASON hates the border wall. In addition, congressional Republicans still haven't noticed the "kick me" stickers on their butts.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    OR possibly an acknowledgement that most news consumers will be fed a steady diet of blame to one side only.

  • Ben_||

    Combining them would give the Democrats another chance to show that they care about foreign nationals and virtue signaling a lot more than they care about their US constituents.

  • Tony||

    I suppose we could be grateful that he didn't campaign on promising a space elevator (and the Martians will pay for it).

  • Sometimes a Great Notion||

    A space elevator would be great. But best leave that to private parties to finance, construct, and operate. Our government would demand stops along the way for LA, NYC, Des Moines....., then we'd hear how racist it is because there weren't stops in black neighborhoods so we'd need to add some stops there. And of course an environmental impact reports for the next 40 years. Union workers demanding they get the moon prevailing wage which they will promptly set.

  • James Pollock||

    Space elevators have to built on the equator, and that's non-negotiable.

  • Leo Kovalensky II||

    Honestly, if criminal justice reform requires wasting money on a border wall, so be it. It isn't ideal, but the money is likely going to be wasted anyway. At least something good comes with the waste this time.

  • Hank Phillips||

    Texas can be renamed East Berlin. That wall oughtta stop those retired hippies from actually living on Social Security checks in Mexico, and flipping off Mandatory Socialized Medical insurance AND a 6% sales tax. Otherwise dollars will flow into the repeal-happy Canadian and Mexican economies instead of into pension funds for First Responder™ DrogenKrieg Waffen troops and regulatory agency bureaucrats. Oh the horror!

  • Wise Old Fool||

    You don't understand politics. ALL democrats would vote against, and enough border state senators will finish it off. Surely people in the comments section know more about the current state of politics than you seem to be indicating.

  • DesigNate||

    Tying it to the fucking border wall guarantees no Democrats will vote for it, and it was already a long sell because it will give Trump a visible, popular win. But what should I expect from the Stupid Party.

  • CapitalistRoader||

    In other words, Trump is trying to tie the FIRST STEP Act to funding for his border wall.

    Tough shit masturbating, holier-than-thou, academically-pure libertarians. As your awesome boyfriend said, elections have consequences.

    Get over yourself.

  • Wise Old Fool||

    What a retarded comment on a libertarian website lmfao.

  • Wearenotperfect||

    Why the fuck is this notion of "I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today" idea for a stupid wall still oozing out of Drumpf''s mouth! Especially with a recession on the horizon!

  • James Pollock||

    "So, it'll be at least two more years' wait for criminal justice reform?

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  • Hank Phillips||

    Does conservative safety valve mean death sentences for marijuana possession?

  • Wise Old Fool||

    If he wants to get it done he has to tie it to an annual budget or say he will veto. the only thing that will get it passed is threat of a government shutdown. Dems are going to vote as a block to oppose it and there are enough republican senators from border states that will kill it without a lot of leverage. Is he that much of a political neophyte to think it's going to pass any other way? Dumb ass.

  • Jayburd||

    65% of non citizen headed households receive welfare according to the Census. Like Harry Browne said, take down the free lunch sign at the border.

  • Jayburd||

    And where's the Reason story on this Census statistic?


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