Nov 29, 2018

DOJ floats revised version of Trump-backed criminal justice bill

Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

The Justice Department is circulating a revised version of the bipartisan criminal justice reform bill already publicly endorsed by President Trump, which addresses concerns from some law enforcement groups and hardline conservatives such as Sen. Tom Cotton, according to a draft obtained by Axios and first reported by the Free Beacon.

Why it matters: Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker has reportedly expressed concern over parts of the original version, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell indicated before the midterms that he would only bring the bill to the floor if it had sufficient support from Republicans.

The three key changes in the DOJ's version of the bill would:

  1. Exclude more prisoners from being eligible to reduce their sentence by participating in rehabilitation programs.
  2. Eliminate the broadened safety valve, which allows judges to give less than the mandatory minimum sentence in certain situations.
  3. Reduce how much time an inmate can cut off their sentence by participating in rehabilitation programs.

The bottom line: Much of the original bill endorsed by the president has been left in place, but the floating of a revised version could prolong a process already on a tight schedule.

  • One advocate close to the debate told Axios they believe that if the changes are kept, it could risk losing support from some Democrats. Any version of legislation that passes the Senate would still have to make it through the House, which passed a less expansive version of the bill earlier this year.

The White House is still backing the original bill, and "is not circulating any other version," White House Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley told Axios.

What to watch:

  • Sen. Mike Lee, who has been a strong supporter of the original bill, has had 22 Republican Senators personally commit to voting yes — fewer than half of the needed votes — but an additional 15 say they "lean" toward yes, according to his spokesperson Conn Carroll.

Yes, but: Cotton has been on a campaign against the bill. At a Tuesday lunch where the bill was addressed, he passed out a handout, seen by Axios, which highlighted provisions that would enable certain sex offenders and people who have assaulted law enforcement officers to reduce their sentence.

  • The handout notably included a DOJ analysis. The National Sheriffs’ Association, Major Cities Chiefs Association, and Major County Sheriffs of America along with a few other law enforcement groups have also opposed the bill.

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