Mitch McConnell Says Senate Will Vote on Bipartisan Prison Reform Bill

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced Tuesday the Senate would take up a long-awaited bipartisan bill that aims to reduce the number of people in the nation’s crowded prisons.

“At the request of the president and following improvements to the legislation that has been secured by several members, the Senate will take up the revised criminal justice bill this month,” the Kentucky Republican said. He added he would turn to it as early as the end of the week.

An unusual coalition of Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, civil rights groups and the White House have rallied around criminal justice reform pushing for action on the latest effort: a Senate bill called the “First Step Act.”

Despite the bipartisan push to act on the criminal justice bill, the effort had seemed to stall in the Senate. Pressure mounted in recent days with President Donald Trump urging McConnell to call up the bill for a vote. Trump welcomed McConnell’s decision Tuesday.

“Looks like it’s going to be passing, hopefully – famous last words,” Trump said at the White House. “It’s really something we’re all very proud of. Tremendous support from Republicans and tremendous support from Democrats. Lot of years they’ve been waiting for it.”

The measure has faced fierce opposition from some Republicans, including Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, who said it would free too many prisoners, including violent felons.

Cotton said he looked forward to debating a revised measure and introducing amendments to address his concerns, including the early release of felons who commit certain crimes.

“Unfortunately, the bill still has major problems and allows early release for many categories of serious, violent criminals,” he said in a statement Tuesday.

Republican leaders had said there wasn’t enough support within the party to pass the measure. But support continued to grow in recent days. By Monday, at least 34 senators, including Democrats and Republicans, had signed onto the bill.

“We have the votes. We’re very confident,” George Hartmann, a spokesman from Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, told USA TODAY Tuesday.

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, both supporters of criminal justice reform, predicted the bill would pass.

“I think you’ll see a number of Republicans now come on board supporting this bill as amended,” Cornyn said. “The fact that people now know we’re going to vote on it is going to cause people to have to make decisions.”

Paul, who has co-sponsored several of his own criminal justice reform bills, said he expects close to 80 votes for the bill.

Grassley, one of the lead sponsors, and Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois had launched a full-court press to push for action on the measure. Vice President Mike Pence and Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, have visited the U.S. Capitol to rally Senate Republicans.

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SOURCE: USA Today, Deborah Barfield Berry, Eliza Collins and Herb Jackson