Trump embraces bipartisan criminal justice reform legislation
Proponents have sought changes for years, arguing that mandatory sentencing, including for repeat offenders, has led to excessively long imprisonment for relatively minor crimes. And they note those sentences tend to disproportionately fall on African-Americans.
Supporters said they hoped the president's support could speed the legislation's approval, possibly before the new Congress is seated in January. Others were skeptical lawmakers would move that fast.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., released a joint statement praising Trump's endorsement and said it would allow the proposal's sponsors to "quickly take a critical first step towards reforming our criminal justice system.”
The legislation also would place federal prisoners closer to home, allow more home confinement for lower-level offenders and expand prison employment programs.
Trump announced his support at a White House event where he was flanked by lawmakers and joined by Kushner, who has made criminal justice reform a centerpiece of his portfolio. Members of both parties have long predicted criminal justice reform had the potential to win bipartisan support, but it has taken years for the legislation to materialize.
"Did I hear that word 'bipartisan'? Did I hear that word? That's a nice word," Trump said.
But Trump also used the event to take a shot at President Bill Clinton, who signed a sweeping crime bill in 1994 that funded community police officers and drug courts but also mandated sentences for certain crimes. Trump described the latest effort as rolling back parts of the "Clinton crime law."
Some House and Senate Democrats who have been players on criminal justice reform said they have serious concerns about the Senate proposal, including whether it goes far enough to address mass incarceration and racial profiling.
Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., who has led criminal justice reform efforts, called for the Congressional Budget Office to study those concerns.
“There’s a tendency around here to introduce a bill with a title, discuss the title and then go to the press conference,’’ he said.
Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., said he doubted Congress would act before next year. He said he expected more action in the next session and noted that Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who said he is likely to chair the Senate Judiciary Committee, expressed interest in the issue.
"I think there’s leadership that could bring about some change," Cardin said. "We need to do it. We’re losing too many of our people. It’s ridiculous."
Earlier this year, the House passed a version of the bill sponsored by Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., and Rep. Hakeem Jefferies, D-N.Y., which Trump also backed. Critics, including some Democrats, said that bill didn’t address the controversial issue of mandatory minimum sentencing.
Advocacy groups supporting criminal justice reforms praised the Senate compromise, saying it’s long overdue.
"At a time when our nation feels more divided than ever, one thing nearly all Americans agree on is the need to fix our broken criminal justice system," Holly Harris, executive director of the Justice Action Network, a coalition of groups, said in a statement.
Original post can be found at USA TODAY