Prison Bill Outlook Hazy in Senate Amid GOP Strife

Senators are divided about a prison reform bill that overwhelmingly passed the House. Democrats want to broaden it, but one Republican criticizes a sentencing reform measure over “lenient treatment for heroin and fentanyl traffickers.”

Senators are under growing pressure to take up a prison reform bill that is a top priority for President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner. The bill passed the House last week in an overwhelming 360-59 vote, where only two GOP lawmakers voted against the legislation, The Hill reports. Democrats say the the First Step Act is too narrow because it doesn’t include sentencing reform. Trump called on Congress to work out a deal during a prison reform summit this month, saying the legislation would help “restore the rule of law, keep dangerous criminals off our street, and help inmates get a second chance on life.”

Senate negotiators are not close to a deal that would allow the prison reform bill to move quickly. Congress is in recess this week. The fight is pitting two influential GOP senators — John Cornyn of Texas and Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the Judiciary Committee chairman — against each other as they jockey for competing bills. Grassley acknowledged that he has not convinced Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to bring the sentencing reform bill to the floor. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ar.), one of Trump’s closest allies in the Senate, is raising concerns “with provisions in the bill pertaining to lenient treatment for heroin and fentanyl traffickers,” a spokeswoman said. Cotton, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and GOP Sens. David Perdue (GA) and Orrin Hatch (UT) were a small but vocal group of Republicans senators deeply opposed to broader legislation that included both prison reform and changes to mandatory minimum sentencing.