Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced Tuesday that he will take up a vote on bipartisan criminal justice reform legislation that is backed by President Trump.
"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 recently revised criminal justice bill," McConnell said on the Senate floor Tuesday morning.
The FIRST STEP Act joins a House-passed prison reform bill meant to reduce recidivism with four changes to sentencing laws.
McConnell’s decision is a reversal from remarks he made at a Wall Street Journal event last week where he argued that the Senate may not have time to take up the “extremely controversial” legislation.
“It’s extremely divisive inside the Senate Republican Conference, in fact there are more members in my conference that are either against it or undecided than or for it,” he said at the time. “This is a one-week to 10-day bill and I’ve got two weeks.”
However, since then changes have been made to the bill to earn more GOP support and Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and David Purdue (R-GA) have endorsed the measure.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) is still an opponent of the legislation. Following McConnell’s announcement, Cotton outlined the objections he still had to the legislation.
Unfortunately, the bill still has major problems & allows early release for many categories of serious, violent criminals. This includes felons who commit violent bank robberies with dangerous weapons, who assault children, & who commit carjacking with the intent to cause death.— Tom Cotton (@SenTomCotton) December 11, 2018
Crimes still eligible for early release in the latest version of the bill:— Tom Cotton (@SenTomCotton) December 11, 2018
1. Bank robbery with a dangerous weapon (18 U.S.C. § 2113(d))
2. Assault against a child (18 U.S.C. § 113(a)(5))
3. Carjacking with intent to cause death (18 U.S.C. 2119(1))
President Trump is a huge proponent of the legislation and tweeted his hope that McConnell would take it up Friday.
Hopefully Mitch McConnell will ask for a VOTE on Criminal Justice Reform. It is extremely popular and has strong bipartisan support. It will also help a lot of people, save taxpayer dollars, and keep our communities safe. Go for it Mitch!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 7, 2018
McConnell also told the Senate Tuesday morning that they may have to work through Christmas.
"Members should now be prepared to work between Christmas and New Years, if necessary, to complete our work," he said during his floor speech.
"Unless we approach all this work in a highly collaborative, productive way and take real advantage of unanimous consent to expedite proceedings, it is virtually certain that the Senate will need to be in session between Christmas and New Years in order to complete this work," he emphasized.