President Trump announced his support Wednesday for a historic criminal justice reform bill that proposes to loosen sentencing laws and boost rehabilitation efforts.
Speaking in the Roosevelt Room at the White House, Trump praised the so-called “First Step Act” as a “reasonable” concession that gives “former inmates a second chance at life” while keeping “violent criminals off our streets.”
“Today’s announcement shows that true bipartisanship is possible," said Trump, striking an unusually conciliatory tone. “This is a big breakthrough for a lot of people. They’ve been talking about this for many, many years.”
If the Senate passes it, the legislation will mark the first major overhaul of U.S. criminal justice laws since 1994, when former President Bill Clinton signed some sentencing reform into law.
The latest measure will nullify some mandatory sentencing recommendations and give judges more discretion while sentencing nonviolent offenders, particularly drug offenders.
Trump’s endorsement of the bill comes days after he forced Jeff Sessions to resign as attorney general.
Sessions, a hard-line law and order conservative from Alabama, was vehemently opposed to any type of criminal justice reform.
Jared Kushner, on the other hand, is a big proponent of the bill and has spent several months working on it.
The House passed the criminal justice reform package this spring and Trump called for the Senate to swiftly take it up so he can sign it into law.
“I’ll be waiting with a pen,” Trump said.
However, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was cautiously optimistic about the bill, declining to definitively say that he will bring it to the floor.
Instead, McConnell said GOP leaders will do a party roll call to gauge support for the bill once they have a final proposal on the table.
McConnell also claimed Congress has several other priorities before the year is over, including passing government funding and a farm bill.
“We don’t have a whole lot of time left, but the first step is to finalize what proponents are actually for,” McConnell told reporters. “There have been a lot of different versions floating around. And then we’ll whip it and see where the vote count is and then see how it stacks up against our other priorities going on here to the end of the session.”
The bill has received the backing of an unusual coalition of progressive and conservative groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union and groups backed by right-wing mega donors Charles and David Koch.
The federal inmate population has been on the decline since 2013, when it peaked at just more than 219,000. The total now stands at about 181,400, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Still, that's about triple the number of inmates in federal detention 30 years ago.
With News Wire Services