Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa) is leading a campaign to ensure the upper chamber votes on a sweeping criminal-justice-reform package before the new Congress goes into session early next year.
Citing the prominent role he’s played in confirming federal judges, Grassley called Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Monday to ask that McConnell reward his loyalty by scheduling a quick vote on the First Step Act, the New York Times reported Tuesday.
The bill is designed to address mass incarceration by reducing mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug crimes and expanding rehabilitation programs intended to reduce recidivism.
Republican senator Mike Lee of Utah, one of the bill’s leading sponsors, joined Grassley on the call Monday.
“I’ve been working on this issue for nearly eight years, and we have never been closer than we are right now,” Lee told the Times. “The stars have just aligned in such a way, all it takes is getting to the Senate floor.”
While the bill gained momentum from President Trump’s recent endorsement, it has encountered staunch opposition from Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, who, along with a coalition of hard-line conservatives, has argued that it will lead to a spike in crime. On Monday, Cotton and Lee sparred on Twitter over the bill’s contents, accusing each other of deliberately misrepresenting the way it will affect sentencing.
White House adviser Jared Kushner, who helped in drafting and lobbying in favor of the bill, reportedly plans to ask Trump to pressure McConnell to bring the bill to the floor during the final weeks of the lame-duck session of Congress.
Senator Rand Paul and his wife have also launched a public pressure campaign in their home state of Kentucky in an attempt to force McConnell’s hand.
“I would just ask Mitch McConnell to look at the people who are coming at this from all walks of life and hear all of our voices saying we want this legislation,” Paul’s wife Kelley said of the bipartisan legislation in a recent interview.
McConnell has reportedly maintained that, while he does not want to kill the legislation, he doesn’t believe the upper chamber has enough time to hold a vote before January.