Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

As improbable as it sounds, it looks like Trump is genuinely embracing an issue — prison reform — that seemed unthinkable when he was yelling "law and order" on the campaign trail. At an event at the White House on Friday, Trump endorsed prison reform— and promoted upcoming House legislation — with more passion than we've ever seen.

The big picture: Prison reform wasn't on his radar at all during the campaign and his impulses on this issue have frequently been muddled (he wants the death penalty for drug dealers and privately has spoken admiringly of what President Rodrigo Duterte is doing in the Philippines).

  • But this idea of a "second chance" — better rehabilitation programs and services for prisoners so they have a better chance of staying out of jail when they're released — seems to have finally connected with Trump.
  • Jared Kushner, the prime mover of this policy within the White House, was in the front row for the event.

Behind the scenes: A turning point for Trump was a Jan. 11 meeting in the White House's Roosevelt Room, according to two sources who were in the room that day. Trump was going around the room, asking everyone at the table their views on prison reform. People were talking about data and statistics, but they didn't seem to resonate.

  • Then, according to one source, the former White House official Reed Cordish said: "Mr. President, this is important. The people you talked about on the campaign trail, that you were fighting for. The people who voted for you, the forgotten men and women who have no voice — that's who we are talking about in the prisons."
  • "That — when he connected it to Trump's voters — really seemed to connect with him," the source added. The second source in the room confirmed that account.

What's next: The House plans to vote this week on the bipartisan "FIRST STEP Act." Advocates for the bill say it will reduce recidivism rates by giving non-violent prisoners access to better rehabilitation programs, including from the private sector, and give them the "time credits" they've earned. But there’s plenty of opposition on the left — who say the bill excludes too many prisoners and reinforces racial disparities — and the right, who worry it's too lenient on criminals. Civil rights leader John Lewis is an especially powerful opponent.

  • While it may pass the House, the path forward in the Senate is much dicier. Mitch McConnell is preoccupied with confirming judges.
  • Law and order hardliners, including Sen. Tom Cotton, remain skeptical. Some Sessions allies have been privately referring to the "earned time credits" idea — which rewards prisoners' good behavior — as "backdoor sentencing reform."

Go deeper

Updated 41 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 6:30 p.m. ET: 34,124,948 — Total deaths: 1,016,723 — Total recoveries: 23,703,113Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 6:30 p.m. ET: 7,273,244 — Total deaths: 207,605 — Total recoveries: 2,840,747 — Total tests: 103,946,170Map.
  3. Politics: House prepares to pass revised COVID relief bill as White House talks hit roadblock — Biden to expand voter outreach with in-person canvassing amid pandemic.
  4. Health: Health officials urge flu shots, warning of "twindemic" with COVID-19 — Coronavirus infections rise in 25 states.
  5. Business: Remdesivir is good business for Gilead — Amazon says over 19,800 employees contracted coronavirus — Doomsday has arrived for tens of thousands of workers.

Doomsday has arrived for tens of thousands of workers

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Federal coronavirus aid for airlines expires on Thursday with no renewal in sight, meaning massive layoffs for the industry aren't far behind.

The big picture: Airline workers aren't alone on the unemployment line. Oil companies, tire manufacturers, book publishers and insurers are among those that have announced tens of thousands of layoffs. Federal aid through the CARES Act earlier this year delayed most layoffs — until now.

4 hours ago - Science

How the brain handles the unknown

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Uncertainty can be hard for humans. It drives anxiety, an emotion neuroscientists are trying to understand and psychologists are trying to better treat.

Why it matters: Under the threat of a virus, job insecurity, election uncertainty, and a general pandemic life-in-limbo that is upending school, holidays and more, people are especially anxious.