Trump announces support for bipartisan prison reform
President Donald Trump on Wednesday announced his support for a bipartisan prison reform bill, called the FIRST Step Act.
“Today, I am thrilled to announce my support for this bipartisan bill that will make our communities safer and give former inmates a second chance at life after they have served their time,” Trump said during brief remarks in the Roosevelt Room.
Trump added that the White House pledge “to ‘Hire American’ includes those leaving prison and looking for a very fresh start — new job, new life.”
Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, who has taken on criminal justice reform efforts since joining the White House, was present during the President’s remarks. Also present were fellow White House adviser and first daughter Ivanka Trump, faith leaders, law enforcement leaders and lawmakers supporting the legislation were also present.
“I’m waiting. I’ll be waiting with a pen and we will have done something that hasn’t been done in many, many years, and it’s the right thing to do,” Trump added.
The President also spoke about Alice Johnson, a first-time nonviolent drug offender whose sentence he commuted over the summer after the case was brought to his attention by reality television star Kim Kardashian.
“I’ll never forget the scene of her coming out of prison after 21 years and greeting her family and everybody was crying. Her sons, her grandsons, everybody was crying and hugging and holding each other. It was a beautiful thing to see, it was a very tough situation,” he said.
Trump came to support the criminal justice reform bill on Wednesday after White House officials were able to demonstrate to him that there is a growing coalition of support for the bill, representing people on different sides of the political spectrum and law enforcement groups, a senior White House official said.
Trump was first presented with the framework for criminal justice reform the White House was pursuing “about a year ago” and had “no objection to the policy” at the time, the official said.
“In fact, he thought it made a lot of sense,” the official said.
The President ultimately signed on once the midterms had passed and White House officials presented him with “the body of support that we’ve gotten for this,” the official said.
Supporters of the FIRST Step Act expect that Trump’s backing will help propel the prison and sentencing overhaul bill through Congress, a push White House officials hope to accomplish during the lame duck session of Congress. The White House plans to begin circulating the final text of the reworked legislation this week.
Once members have a chance to look it over, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has promised to bring the bill to a floor vote if there are 60 votes in favor of it.
“I am optimistic that we’ll way more than clear 60 votes,” the senior White House official said. “There’s a big group of Republicans that were waiting to see what the President was going to do on this.”
The official said Kushner met with McConnell in September and had hoped to get the FIRST Step Act through Congress before the midterms, but was told the bill had to wait until after the midterms.
The official also denied that former Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ departure contributed to moving forward on the bill, calling the timing coincidental. Sessions was an opponent of the legislation.
Pressed about the lack of Democrats at the President’s announcement on Wednesday, the official insisted the bill has Democratic support and pointed to praise for the bill from both sides of the ideological spectrum. The issue for today ultimately came down to the final text of the bill not having yet been widely circulated, the official said.
The new legislation would eliminate “stacking” provisions that result in offenders serving consecutive sentences for crimes committed using firearms; shorten mandatory minimum sentences, including reverting life imprisonment to a 25-year minimum for those convicted under the “three strikes” provision; and expand the “drug safety valve” to reduce the number of nonviolent drug offenders receiving mandatory minimum sentences.
Proponents of the bill made several changes to it to win backing from law enforcement groups, including excluding individuals convicted of some fentanyl-related offenses from accessing good time prison credits and a compromise provision to modestly expand the definition of a serious violent crime.
By Maegan Vazquez, Liz Stark and Jeremy Diamond, CNN