Senators release compromise criminal justice bill

Senators released the text of a compromise bill that would overhaul parts of the federal criminal justice system on Thursday, setting the stage for an attempt at passage in the lame duck session.

President Donald Trump endorsed the legislation, known as the First Step Act, at a White House event on Wednesday along with leading congressional Republicans on the bill and other supporters. Trump’s endorsement marked the furthest step yet he has taken following his call in his State of the Union speech for revisions to the federal prison system.

With the President’s endorsement and the bill’s release, the matter will turn next to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has said he would bring the measure to the floor if a whip count showed it could clear 60 votes. The Kentucky Republican repeated the point on Wednesday while noting the few remaining legislative days in Congress before the session ends.

“We don’t have a whole lot of time left,” McConnell said.

The First Step Act, in its previous iteration, passed the House in May by an overwhelming margin following changes put in place by its sponsors, GOP Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia and Democratic Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York. Its passage was heralded by Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, who has emerged as the highest-profile criminal justice overhaul proponent in the administration.

Its Senate companion, sponsored by GOP Sen. John Cornyn of Texas and Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, faced staunch opposition in the Senate Judiciary Committee, led by GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, who has become a key advocate for some sentencing revisions. After the bill passed the House, Grassley and other sentencing overhaul proponents continued to press for more comprehensive legislation.

The bill would implement changes to the federal prison system, including increasing access and incentives for some prisoners to participate in programs aimed at decreasing their chances of returning to prison after release, and revise some federal sentencing provisions, including reducing mandatory minimum sentences.