The controversial criminal justice reform bill, First Step Act, has been the centerpiece in battles between prominent conservatives on Capitol Hill ever since President Trump first endorsed it earlier this month. Senators Tom Cotton and Mike Lee have had words on Twitter debating the bill with Cotton claiming it’s too lenient on violent criminals and Lee, the bill’s author, claiming it excludes those it should.
Now, reports are spreading that the White House is shopping a new version of the bill that will bring Republicans together to support it. The White House denies it, but multiple outlets have referenced different sources saying it’s not only being distributed on Capitol Hill but also to leaders in law enforcement who have been critical of the “jailbreak,” as many are calling it.
Charles Fain Lehman at Washington Free Beacon, one of the first to break the story earlier today, has heard from both sides of the fence:
“The President has endorsed the Senate compromise on the First Step Act, and the White House is not circulating any other version. All reporting to the contrary is false. The White House is committed to passing this legislation in the lame duck,” Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley told the Free Beacon.
Conn Carroll, Communications Director for bill-author Lee, told the Free Beacon that the version of the bill being reported here was being distributed by “rogue elements within the DOJ,” who have long opposed FIRST STEP.
There are two conflicting narratives being spread about the bill. On one hand, we’re hearing its’a bipartisan bill with support from law enforcement. On the other hand,.there’s a rush to get it passed during the lame duck session. If it has wide bipartisan support, which would the GOP be wasting time trying to pass it before Democrats take over the House?
The reality is this: as it sits it is probably considered to be “bipartisan” because a few Democrats have agreed to it which counters the few Republicans who oppose it. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is hesitant to bring it to a vote until he’s secured ever Republican. He’d prefer to have a unified caucus. If that’s the case, then the alleged changes to the bill are designed to bring it further to the right so it no longer has to be supported by Democrats at all.
That’s the only thing that makes sense if they’re pushing it forward now. If they stick with the bipartisan version, they’re wasting precious time on it during the lame duck. They can push it until the next session when Democrats have control of the House, helping both sides demonstrate they can get things done even with a split on Capitol Hill.
I sincerely hope they push a conservative version now. They need to make the final version public before the votes so constituents can weigh in with lawmakers. I’ve been opposed to the bill in its current form and unless there are radical changes made I can’t see myself changing my mind, but if we’re stuck with the choice between a rushed conservative version or a slow bipartisan version, I’d rather take the version that can be passed exclusively by Republicans.
Criminal justice reform is a polarizing issue. If they can appease calls from conservatives and law enforcement officers to make it less of a jailbreak and keep American citizens’ safety as a priority, that’s preferable to a compromise.
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