Tom Williams | CQ Roll Call | Getty Images
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., right, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
President Donald Trump on Friday urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to pass a “badly needed” criminal justice reform bill.
But while Trump tweeted that the proposal has “a true shot at major bipartisan support” in the Senate, it’s unclear whether the bill will make it to a vote this year.
Trump tweet Really good Criminal Justice Reform has a true shot at major bipartisan support. @senatemajldr Mitch McConnell and @senchuckschumer have a real chance to do something so badly needed in our country. Already past, with big vote, in House. Would be a major victory for ALL!
The bill, known in the House as the “First Step Act,” passed the House in May with overwhelming support from lawmakers of both parties, securing 360 votes in favor and just 59 against. Supporters included 134 Democrats. The measure also has backing from the libertarian-leaning Koch political network, which routinely backs Republican candidates and has often pushed back on some of Trump’s policies. Getting the First Step Act passed is one of the group’s priorities for the remainder of the year.
The legislation, pushed by Trump’s senior advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner, pares back the major proposal to reduce mandatory minimum sentences that foundered in Congress in 2016.
Trump has strongly endorsed the bill in recent weeks, saying at a Nov. 14 press conference that it “will make our communities safer and give former inmates a second chance at life after they have served their time.”
“I’ll be waiting with my pen,” Trump said.
The First Step Act would only affect federal inmates, who account for less than 3 percent of the total U.S. prison population.
Despite the apparent bipartisan support, the lame-duck Senate under McConnell may not have the bandwidth to take on the bill before the next Congress takes over on Jan. 3. Democrats’ takeover of the House in the new Congress could lead to a push for more expansive sentencing changes that threaten the bill’s chances of passage.
In a statement Friday, a spokesman for McConnell told The New York Times: “The support for, and length of time needed to move the new bill is not knowable at this moment.”
Contacted for a comment on the president’s push to pass the reform bill, a spokesman for McConnell referred to the majority leader’s remarks on the bill earlier in November. “We don’t have a whole lot of time left, but the first step is to finalize what proponents are actually for,” McConnell said, the Lousville Courier Journal reported. “There have been a lot of different versions floating around. And then we’ll whip it and see where the vote count is,” McConnell added.
A spokesman for Schumer, D-N.Y., did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment on the president’s tweet.
Leading Senate Republicans have come out in favor of the bill. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who leads the Judiciary Committee but has opted to chair the Finance Committee come January, urged his GOP colleagues in a series of tweets to pass the bill quickly.