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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

President Trump privately expressed openness Thursday to reforms of federal sentencing guidelines in order to help a prison reform bill move through the Senate, The Hill first reported.

Why it matters: The earlier momentum behind prison reform stopped abruptly in the Senate, with Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Democrats unwilling to support a bill that didn't address harsh sentencing laws. But this compromise could get most players on board — at the same time Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is looking for bipartisan wins.

What's new: Four pieces of Grassley's bill would be added to the prison reform bill that passed the House, according to sources closely involved, that would:

  1. Reduce the mandatory penalty from life to 25 years for a third conviction of certain drug offenses, and from 25-15 years for a second conviction.
  2. Prohibit the doubling up of mandatory sentences for certain gun and drug offenses.
  3. Give judges more discretion in giving less than the mandatory minimum for certain low-level crimes.
  4. Make the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act retroactive, which changed sentencing guidelines to treat offenses involving crack and powder cocaine equally.

Details: The existing bill incentivizes rehabilitation programs, would send around 4,000 prisoners home and provides incarcerated women sanitary products.

The support: A senior White House official told the Hill that Trump is "positively inclined" toward the compromise proposal. And an official told Axios that Trump will "always be very tough on crime," but also "believes in second chances."

  • Sens. Grassley, Mike Lee and John Cornyn ,as well as several advocates, have told Axios they are encouraged by the latest developments. “We thank President Trump for his leadership to ensure that meaningful criminal justice reform happens this year," said Koch Industries' general counsel Mark Holden.
I think it’s clear now that the president is engaged on this issue and is supportive of a reasonable compromise. With his leadership I think we can get a bipartisan deal done.
— Sen. Grassley to Axios

Advocacy groups who had previously withheld support for the bill, such as the Brennan Center, have been welcoming toward the possibility of compromise. Even The Leadership Conference sees the developments as a possible opportunity for getting sentencing reform done.

What to watch: Now that Grassley and Democrats are likely to get on board, all eyes are on Republicans (hardliners like Sen. Tom Cotton aside) to see if they maintain their support even with sentencing.

  • Cut50 co-founder Jessica Jackson, who's been active on the issue, told Axios they're continuing to work hard "to make sure that both parties are staying healthy on this issue and saying yes where they agree."

Go deeper

Judge nixes Gulf of Mexico oil leases in climate-focused ruling

Tug boats prepare to tow the semi-submersible drilling platform Noble Danny Adkins through the Port Aransas Channel into the Gulf of Mexico on December 12, 2020 in Port Aransas, Texas. Photo: Tom Pennington/Getty Images

A federal judge on Thursday canceled the Biden administration's late 2021 sale of new oil-and-gas drilling leases in the Gulf of Mexico.

Why it matters: The ruling that the greenhouse gas emissions analysis by the Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) was insufficient is a win for green groups that challenged the decision, as they seek to curb fossil fuel production.

45 million Americans under winter storm watches near New England

Computer model projection showing the winds moving around the powerful East Coast storm on Saturday Jan. 29, 2022. Credit: https://earth.nullschool.net

Nearly 45 million Americans are under winter weather alerts and warnings from North Carolina to northeastern Maine Thursday night, as a major winter storm threatens the region.

Why it matters: It is predicted to be the biggest blizzard since 2018 to strike the Northeast with more than 2 feet of snow possible in parts of eastern Massachusetts, according to the National Weather Service.

2 hours ago - World

Zelensky questions U.S. warnings of "imminent" invasion in Biden call

Biden and Zelensky at the White House last October. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty

President Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had a back-and-forth in their call this evening about just how "imminent" the threat of a Russian invasion might be, according to three sources briefed on the call.

Why it matters: Biden has said previously that he believes Russian President Vladimir Putin will probably "move in" to Ukraine, and White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday afternoon that "an invasion could come at any time."