McConnell relents, will bring criminal justice reform bill to the Senate floor

For the last few weeks, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell had been adamantly opposed to bringing a sweeping criminal justice reform bill to the floor.  But yesterday, at the president's urging, McConnell finally relented and said he would schedule a vote on the bipartisan measure.

USA Today:

"At the request of the president and following improvements to the legislation that have been secured by several members, the Senate will take up the revised criminal justice bill this month," the Kentucky Republican said.  He said he would turn to it as early as the end of the week. 

An unusual coalition of Republicans and Democrats, civil rights groups and small-government conservatives have pushed for action on the Senate bill called the "First Step Act."  President Donald Trump also backs it.

The effort to pass a Senate bill had stalled as McConnell remained reluctant to bring it to a floor vote by the end of the year.  Then pressure began to mount on him from Trump and other Republican senators.

The measure would give judges more discretion in sentencing offenders for nonviolent crimes, particularly drug offenss [sic], and bolster rehabilitation programs for former prisoners.  It would also call for placing federal prisoners closer to home – no more than 500 miles – so families could visit more often. 

Not everyone is happy about the bill.  Senator Tom Cotton believes that the legislation would free too many prisoners, including some violent felons.

Cotton said he looked forward to debating a revised measure and introducing amendments to address his concerns, including the early release of felons who commit certain crimes.

"Unfortunately, the bill still has major problems and allows early release for many categories of serious, violent criminals,'' he said in a statement Tuesday.

Cotton's concerns are valid.  If a violent criminal is locked up for drug possession, taking him off the street is a blessing in disguise.  Cotton wants to tighten up the early release of some felons who were violent in the past but are in prison for a nonviolent crime. 

Otherwise, the bill, even if it passed the Senate, will face a stiff challenge when the legislation goes to a conference with the House to iron out differences with the House bill, which was passed earlier this year.

Some House Republicans object to eliminating the mandatory sentencing requirement for many crimes.  Others echo Cotton's objections.  It remains to be seen whether those differences can be papered over enough to pass what many are calling historic legislation.