The Senate on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a bipartisan criminal justice bill supported by President Donald Trump after defeating three amendments pushed by conservative Republicans, Fox News informed.
Lawmakers approved the bill and now it should go to the House where it is set to be approved quickly. Its approval would signify a slight victory for Trump and his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, who worked the halls of Congress for months in order to forge a compromise.
President Trump praised the Senate soon after the bill was approved with a tweet. “America is the greatest Country in the world and my job is to fight for ALL citizens, even those who have made mistakes … This will keep our communities safer, and provide hope and a second chance, to those who earn it.” Trump added that he would sign the bill into law.
The bill would allow federal judges to have more discretion when sentencing some drug offenders and boosts prisoner rehabilitation efforts. It also would reduce life sentences for some drug offenders with three convictions, or “three strikes,” to 25 years. Another provision would allow about 2,600 federal prisoners sentenced for crack cocaine offenses before August 2010 the opportunity to petition for a reduced penalty.
The amendments were primarily aimed at addressing concerns that the nation’s war on drugs has increased the prison population without helping people prepare for their return to society.
Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., said the nation’s prisons are full of Americans who are struggling with mental illness and addiction, and who are overwhelmingly poor. He said the nation’s criminal justice system “feeds on certain communities and not on others,” and said the bill represents a step toward “healing” for those communities.
“Let’s make no mistake, this legislation, which is one small step, will affect thousands and thousands of lives,” Booker said.
When the bill appeared to have stalled in recent weeks, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, pleaded with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to bring it up for a vote. With Trump’s urging, McConnell eventually agreed and voted for the bill as well.
“The First Step Act takes lessons from history and from states — our laboratories of democracy — to reduce crime, save taxpayer dollars and strengthen faith and fairness in our criminal justice system,” Grassley said.
The bill had the support of a rare alliance of conservative and liberal advocacy groups, who said the changes would make the nation’s criminal justice system fairer, reduce overcrowding in federal prisons and save taxpayer dollars.
All 12 votes against the bill came from Republican senators: Cotton, Kennedy, John Barrasso of Wyoming, Mike Enzi of Wyoming, John Kyl of Arizona, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, James Risch of Idaho, Mike Rounds of South Dakota, Marco Rubio of Florida, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Richard Shelby of Alabama and Dan Sullivan of Alaska. A 13th Republican, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, did not vote.
The bill would affect only federal prisoners, who make up less than 10 percent of the country’s prison population.