Earlier this month, President Trump announced his support of the First Step Act, a major bipartisan criminal justice reform bill in Congress. The bill, which provides federal judges more discretion by removing the constraints imposed by mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines and has multiple measures designed to reduce the rate of recidivism, overwhelmingly passed the in House in May, but has met resistance in the Senate from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senator Tom Cotton.
Now, with its future uncertain, Trump is publicly putting pressure on McConnell to pass the legislation before the end of the lame-duck congress on January 2, 2019, tweeting, “Really good Criminal Justice Reform has a true shot at major bipartisan support. @senatemajldr Mitch McConnell and @senchuckschumer have a real chance to do something so badly needed in our country. Already past, with big vote, in House. Would be a major victory for ALL!” And Trump is right to pressure McConnell to pass a sorely-needed bill.”
And the First Step Act has garnered the support of several key Republican senators, including Chuck Grassley, Lindsey Graham, Tim Scott, Mike Lee and Rand Paul. The bill has united some of the most-conservative with the most-liberal members of the Senate. Each understand the importance of passing such legislation. So too does the Fraternal Order of Police, whose boasts over 325,000 law enforcement officers among its ranks, who announced their support of the legislation in early November. Yet, McConnell is delaying a vote and trying to keep the bill from becoming law.
Aside from the moral necessity of passing this legislation, there is also a political need for Republicans to do so and before the end of the lame-duck session.
Republicans have long had problems securing the support of black voters, most recently losing this voting bloc by 81 points in the 2018 midterms. Fairly or not, the GOP is viewed as a party that does not care care about the African American community. Passing the First Step Act, which seeks to fix federal sentencing laws that unintentionally incarcerate African Americans more than whites for the same drug crimes, would be one way to combat that view — not to mention ensures equal justice under law. This would help to provide part of a legitimate record of achievement that the GOP could point to as real results.
Trump’s support of this legislation, as well as public pressure on Mitch McConnell to pass it in the lame-duck session, is something that should be applauded by all. The First Step Act is long overdue, as criminal justice reform is sorely needed in the United States.