Our president is a moron as best, a malicious, narcissistic asshole at worst. But that doesn’t mean he can’t stumble ass-first into a good idea every once in awhile. The criminal justice reform bill is just that: one of those rare cases that falls into the minuscule overlap on the Venn diagram between “Trump” and “OK policies.”
Of course, Trump’s fellow Republican leaders want the bill dead. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is close to killing any hope it has to pass during the lame duck session, according to Politico.
McConnell has told Republicans there’s almost no window to take up the bill and debate it on the floor this year, according to multiple GOP sources. And supporters are now making a last-ditch effort to attach it to a year-end spending package, which most senior Republicans say is risky and unlikely to happen.
“Each passing day they get less,” said Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) of the bill’s chances. “We’re still lobbying Sen. McConnell. He has all the power to allow it or not allow it.”
“The people who hate the bill are having their way,” said another Republican senator. “Inaction is a lot easier than action around here.”
The bill would, according to the New York Times, “[provide] incentives for some people in federal prison to participate in educational, vocational and therapeutic programs by awarding them time-reducing credits for completing them. It also increases the use of home detention, post-release transitional programs and electronic monitoring.”
It would retroactively put into effect reforms passed in the Fair Sentencing Act in 2010, closing the gap between sentences for crack and cocaine, which have led to racial disparities in sentences. It would also give judges more leeway when it comes to mandatory minimum sentences, and ban practices like shackling incarcerated women during childbirth, according to Vox.
Of course, the bipartisan bill is far from perfect—one of its major flaws is that though it may help vocational and therapeutic programs in prisons flourish, it would also prevent many violent offenders from decreasing their sentences through those very programs, “perpetuat[ing] the false narrative that people who commit violent crimes are fundamentally different from those who commit nonviolent crimes,” the Times writes. And the reforms would only impact the federal prison system, which houses only 181,000 of the 2.1 million incarcerated people in the U.S., according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
Republicans are split on the bill, with House Speaker Paul Ryan supporting it, while McConnell and others in the Senate have done everything they can to derail it. The House passed a stripped back criminal justice reform bill earlier this year. Ryan has called for the House to pass this version, so if it is approved by the Senate it wouldn’t need to go through the House again to become law. There’s some possibility that Ryan could attach the law to a spending measure, which would almost certainly pass, though it would divide Republicans in the process.
“I think it’s going to be hard to leave town without a vote,” Sen. Lindsey Graham told Politico. He said Ryan is “for the bill. Somebody needs to ask him, are you for putting it on the spending bill?”
Ryan is leaving the House at the end of December, so he doesn’t have to worry much about the fallout from such a move.
McConnell continues to say that there isn’t time to pass the bill by the end of the year. Other Senators say stalling will almost certainly kill the new law.
“It’s in McConnell’s hands. There’s time to do it. It could be put in the omnibus bill,” Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin told Politico. “It’s a bipartisan agreement. But McConnell has been opposed to an effort even supported by the president so far.”