Trump Scores Major Victory With Bipartisan Criminal Justice Bill
If any other president were in the White House, the mainstream media would be holding parades in the streets. But since that president is Donald Trump, most of the media is gladly downplaying his extraordinary legislative victory, which has resulted in one of the most dramatic criminal justice reform bills in years. No surprise there, but the media’s disinterest doesn’t make this any less of an accomplishment. Trump did what politicians on both sides of the aisle have been trying to do for the better part of a decade. He did what Obama couldn’t. He (with a significant assist, reportedly, from Jared Kushner) brought both sides of the political spectrum together to pass a long-overdue piece of legislation.
The Senate passed the historic bill 87-12, though over the heads of a few conservative Republicans who wanted to add some amendments to the wording. It will now go to the House, where a similar bipartisan majority is expected to quickly pass it on to the president’s desk.
“America is the greatest Country in the world and my job is to fight for ALL citizens, even those who have made mistakes,” President Trump tweeted. “This will keep our communities safer, and provide hope and a second chance, to those who earn it.”
The bill is largely focused on federal drug offenses and their consequences. In addition to giving federal judges more leeway when it comes to sentencing offenders, it will provide further incentives for prisoner rehabilitation efforts. Additionally, the bill will convert the sentences of some drug offenders who were stuck with a life sentence after running afoul of the “three strikes” law. Another aspect of the bill will give thousands of crack-cocaine offenders the opportunity to apply for a reduced penalty.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was among the few Republicans who didn’t care for the bill, and it seemed for a time that he would not bring it up for a vote. But after President Trump and Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) pressed McConnell, he changed his mind and agreed to the floor vote. With the winds of change upon him, McConnell cast his vote in favor of the bill as well.
“The First Step Act takes lessons from history and from states – our laboratories of democracy – to reduce crime, save taxpayer dollars, and strengthen faith and fairness in our criminal justice system,” Grassley said.
Still, 12 Republicans ultimately voted against the bill, including Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Marco Rubio of Florida. Among its chief opponents was Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), who was concerned that such a lenient bill would lead to another explosion in national crime rates. Cotton attempted to get three amendments tacked onto the bill, but they were each defeated.
Criminal justice reform is an inherently risky proposition, but studies have shown that the hardline-justice sentences introduced at the height of the war on drugs did little to solve the problem at hand. It was well past time for Congress to take another look at those laws and make some changes. Perhaps these were the right ones to make, and we’ll see similar legislation filter down to the states. Perhaps this is a step in the wrong direction, and the next ten years will prove that out. But it’s better to take action and make a mistake than to let bad policy remain frozen in place forever.