President Donald Trump on Wednesday announced his support for a bipartisan measure that would overhaul the nation’s criminal justice system, saying “it’s the right thing to do.”
“Americans from across the political spectrum can unite around prison reform legislation that will reduce crime while giving our fellow citizens a chance at redemption, so if something happens and they make a mistake, they get a second chance at life,” Trump told reporters at a White House event.
The president’s support is crucial to the effort, supporters say, particularly given the limited time available before a new Congress is seated early next year.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has told reporters in recent days that he needs to be assured that any legislation would pass before he will bring it to a vote during the lame-duck session. Even then, it would be competing with other legislation and would not necessarily come to the floor.
Trump did not respond to shouted questions after his announcement about whether he had sufficient votes for the legislation to pass.
The bipartisan compromise on criminal justice reform has attracted support from a broad range of groups including law enforcement associations, the libertarian-leaning network operated by billionaire industrialist Charles Koch, and the American Civil Liberties Union.
“These members have reached a bipartisan agreement,” Trump said Wednesday. “Did I hear the word bipartisan? Did I hear that word? That’s a nice word.”
The president touted the overhaul’s support among law enforcement and faith groups and vowed that his administration would continue to be “tough on crime.”
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., has emerged as the most vocal opposition in the Senate and has pushed the Trump administration to take a tougher stance on crime. But other prominent Republicans have voiced their support, particularly after some of the legislation’s more aggressive provisions applying reduced sentences retroactively were dropped from its most recent draft.
Attending the White House event Wednesday were Republican Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky. House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., was also in attendance.
The new legislation is expected to give judges more leeway to bypass mandatory minimum sentences in certain types of offenses and to reduce penalties for drug-related offenses. One key provision would lower the minimum sentence for those convicted under the “three strikes” policy from life to 25 years.
The compromise bill would also retroactively apply a 2010 law reducing the disparity in sentencing between different forms of cocaine. Critics say that sentencing disparity has contributed to disproportionate penalties against African-Americans.
The legislation would radically overhaul the nation’s sentencing policies. More than 2 million Americans are incarcerated. The U.S. has the world’s highest incarceration rate.
One of the measure’s chief backers in the White House is Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and a senior advisor. Kushner, whose wide-ranging portfolio also includes Middle Eastern diplomacy, has made sentencing reform one of his chief priorities. His father, Charles Kushner, served time in prison.
Kushner reportedly briefed the president on the legislation on Tuesday.