- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 18, 2018

Sen. Lindsey Graham urged to President Trump on Sunday to “pick up the phone” and order Republican leadership to put a prison reform bill on the floor in the lame-duck session, saying it’s a substantive way to mend post-election divisions.

The South Carolina Republican said the reforms, which include inmate job training and easing of mandatory minimum sentencing for nonviolent offenses, would help black and Hispanic men, in particular, and fix a “three strikes” system that has become too punitive.

He appealed to the White House directly, saying Mr. Trump should cajole Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell into holding a vote on the bipartisan effort.

“Let’s start 2019 on a positive note. I’m urging Sen. McConnell to bring the bill to the floor this Senate. It’ll get 80 votes,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “The Republicans are the problem here, not the Democrats.”

Mr. Graham is a key voice in the debate, since he is poised to become chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee next year. Its current chairman, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, has come out swinging too, effectively challenging Mr. Trump on Friday to flex his deal-making skills and get the bill approved before Democrats calls the shots in the House next year.

Mr. Trump has endorsed the bill, known as the “First Step Act,” but its fate remains uncertain.

Mr. McConnell is reluctant to put it on the Senate floor this year, citing divisions within the GOP and the fact it would consume time needed for other priorities.

Senate leaders have challenged the bill’s backers to prove they have 60 votes for the measure, so it can move as quickly as possible on the floor.

Sen. Tom Cotton, Arkansas Republican, is a key opponent of the bill. He wants his colleagues to slow down and hold hearings on the issue.

“Why are proponents afraid of hearings & letting members find out what’s in it?” he tweeted. “Maybe because it gives early release to ‘low level, nonviolent’ criminals like those convicted of assaulting police, even with deadly weapons.”

Supporters are pushing for swift action, however, pointing to Mr. Trump’s backing and other favorable winds.

Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, spearheaded the effort and sold it to the president. Mr. Kushner has had several discussions with acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, who is said to be more open to the proposed reforms than former Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Another development that helped to push the legislation forward was the concession by Democrats not to make certain tweaks retroactive to people currently serving prison sentences.

Among other reforms, the bill would:

⦁ Give judges the ability to circumvent mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent crimes.

⦁ Retroactively apply the reduction in the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine that was passed in 2010.

⦁ Provide new vocational training, educational instruction and religious programs for inmates.

⦁ Allow federal inmates to be placed closer to home communities to facilitate family visitation.

Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois worked with Mr. Grassley to secure an unorthodox mix of support for the measure, from vocal conservatives to progressives eyeing a 2020 presidential bid.

“Of course I’m all in,” Sen. Sherrod Brown, Ohio Democrat, told NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “I’ve been all in on that for years.”

Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, said it will give nonviolent offenders a second chance in life.

“If Sen. Mitch McConnell, from my home state, will allow a vote, it gets 65 to 70 votes in the Senate. It’ll be one of the most popular things to ever pass,” he told CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “Is it a jailbreak? No, it’s saying people that have a nonviolent drug offense, that we don’t keep them in jail for life.”

⦁ S.A. Miller contributed to this report.

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