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Sen. Mike Lee. Photo: Mark Wilson / Getty Images

Sen. Mike Lee wants to unite a pair of Senate criminal justice reform bills, taking a prison reform effort, adding reductions of certain mandatory minimum sentences and limiting the ability of prosecutors to “stack” multiple mandatory sentences.

Why it matters: Prison reform focused on rehabilitating prisoners through educational programs, vocational training and therapy has gained traction in the House. But Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley won't back down on reforming harsh sentencing guidelines, despite Attorney General Jeff Sessions opposition.

Lee has supported both Sen. Grassley’s more comprehensive bill and Sen. John Cornyn’s prison reform bill. He hopes that by adding these two sentencing pieces from Grassley’s bill, there will be a better chance of getting Cornyn's through the Senate.

Yes, but: One GOP congressional aide told Axios that "adding sentencing reductions to the Cornyn bill would be fatal and guarantee Congress does nothing on criminal justice reform."      

The proposals:

  1. Prohibit prosecutors from "stacking" multiple mandatory sentences for first-time offenders.
  2. Reduce the mandatory penalty for a third conviction of certain drug offenses from life to 25 years, and for a second conviction from 20 to 15 years. These changes would not be retroactive.

Why this time is different: "I think there is a good chance of this happening... Increasingly, it seems like everyone knows someone who has been involved in the criminal justice system. As people become more aware of it... I think it makes reform more likely."

  • Lee told Axios he doesn't see "any good reason for [Sessions] to oppose this... This would represent a substantial compromise from where we have been."
  • On the House bill: "If something like this did happen in the House, it might provide momentum in the Senate."
  • On Kushner: "He's been great. He's been a strong advocate. I've appreciated his leadership and his willingness to call out for reform."

Go deeper

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

In photos: The Biden and Harris inauguration

President Biden and first lady Jill Biden watch a fireworks show on the National Mall from the Truman Balcony at the White House on Wednesday night. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President Biden signed his first executive orders into law from the Oval Office on Wednesday evening after walking in a brief inaugural parade to the White House with First Lady Jill Biden and members of their family. He was inaugurated with Vice President Kamala Harris at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday morning.

Why it matters: Many of Biden's day one actions immediately reverse key Trump administration policies, including rejoining the Paris Agreement and the World Health Organization, launching a racial equity initiative and reversing the Muslim travel ban.

Republicans pledge to set aside differences and work with Biden

President Biden speaks to Sen. Mitch McConnell after being sworn in at the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday. Photo: Erin Schaff-Pool/Getty Images

Several Republicans praised President Biden's calls for unity during his inaugural address on Wednesday and pledged to work together for the benefit of the American people.

Why it matters: The Democrats only have a slim majority in the Senate and Biden will likely need to work with the GOP to pass his legislative agenda.

The Biden protection plan

Joe Biden announces his first run for the presidency in June 1987. Photo: Howard L. Sachs/CNP/Getty Images

The Joe Biden who became the 46th president on Wednesday isn't the same blabbermouth who failed in 1988 and 2008.

Why it matters: Biden now heeds guidance about staying on task with speeches and no longer worries a gaffe or two will cost him an election. His staff also limits the places where he speaks freely and off the cuff. This Biden protective bubble will only tighten in the months ahead, aides tell Axios.