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President Donald Trump speaks with Senator Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa at the White House. Photo: Jim Watson / AFP via Getty Images

I checked in with Chuck Grassley, the powerful Senate Judiciary Chairman, who's been twisting arms for his (and Dick Durbin's) Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act .

Why it matters: Grassley-Durbin is the most ambitious bipartisan criminal justice reform bill out there. On Thursday, the Judiciary Committee will vote on it. Little known fact: 20 senators are co-sponsors.

What we're hearing: There's scant appetite in the Trump administration for Grassley's bill, which combines both prison reform (including programs to rehabilitate prisoners) and sentencing reform (shorter sentences for non-violent criminals.) Grassley introduced the same bill last Congress but McConnell refused to bring it up for a vote.

  • Attorney General Jeff Sessions can live with prison reform, but adamantly opposes anything that could be perceived as "soft on crime."
  • Trump has similar instincts. And even the White House's most passionate criminal justice reform advocate, Jared Kushner, believes they're better off shooting for what is achievable — prison reform only — rather than getting nothing at all, according to sources with direct knowledge. (Though Kushner personally backs criminal justice reform overall.)
  • A White House official told me they spent 6 months listening and learning on this topic and don't see a path forward at this time on criminal justice reform but do see a path forward on prison reform.
  • "We could have the status quo or we could have movement on a serious issue that could save money, reduce crime, and help people," the official added. "And it could build momentum for other areas as well."

The political reality: Grassley didn't deny the White House’s cool reception of his bill, but he plans to use his substantial political clout to press Trump to change his mind.

  • As I've reported, Trump bends over backwards to keep Grassley happy. He knows that as Judiciary Chairman, Grassley played a crucial role in delivering two of Trump's biggest successes so far: the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch and a modern record for circuit court judges in a president's first year.

"I've carried a lot of water for the White House," Grassley told me. "They ought to give some consideration for the close working relationship we’ve had on issues we agree on.""I think people at the White House have not wanted to go against Gen. Sessions," he added, before closing with a sentence crafted perfectly to appeal to Trump's ego. "This is an opportunity for a bipartisan victory by the President of the United States."

Go deeper

Off the Rails

Episode 4: Trump turns on Barr

Photo illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Photos: Drew Angerer, Pool/Getty Images

Beginning on election night 2020 and continuing through his final days in office, Donald Trump unraveled and dragged America with him, to the point that his followers sacked the U.S. Capitol with two weeks left in his term. Axios takes you inside the collapse of a president with a special series.

Episode 4: Trump torches what is arguably the most consequential relationship in his Cabinet.

Attorney General Bill Barr stood behind a chair in the private dining room next to the Oval Office, looming over Donald Trump. The president sat at the head of the table. It was Dec. 1, nearly a month after the election, and Barr had some sharp advice to get off his chest. The president's theories about a stolen election, Barr told Trump, were "bullshit."

In photos: Protests outside fortified capitols draw only small groups

Armed members of the far-right extremist group the Boogaloo Bois near the Michigan Capitol Building in Lansing on Jan. 17. About 20 protesters showed up, AP notes. Photo: Seth Herald/AFP via Getty Images

Small groups of protesters gathered outside fortified statehouses across the U.S. over the weekend ahead of President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration Wednesday.

The big picture: Some protests attracted armed members of far-right extremist groups but there were no reports of clashes, as had been feared. The National Guard and law enforcement outnumbered demonstrators, as security was heightened around the U.S. to avoid a repeat of the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riots, per AP.

Felix Salmon, author of Capital
8 hours ago - World

China's economy grows 6.5% in Q4 as country rebounds from coronavirus

A technician installs and checks service robots to be be used for food and medicine delivery in Jiaxing, Zhejiang Province, China, on Sunday. Photo: Hu Xuejun/VCG via Getty Images

China's economy grew at a 6.5% pace in the final quarter of 2020, the national statistics bureau announced Monday local time, topping off a year in which it grew in three of four quarters and by 2.3% in total.

Why it matters: No other major economy managed positive growth in 2020. Although the COVID-19 pandemic was first detected in China, the country got the virus under control and became one of the main positive drivers of the global economy even as the rest of the world was largely under lockdown.