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Grassley Urges McConnell to Take Up Criminal Justice Bill

Judges can wait, Judiciary chairman says

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, speaks with staff before the start of the Senate Judiciary Committee markup hearing in the Dirksen Building on Nov. 15. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, speaks with staff before the start of the Senate Judiciary Committee markup hearing in the Dirksen Building on Nov. 15. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley again implored Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to get a criminal overhaul through the Senate before the end of the year.

It should be OK if fewer of President Donald Trump’s judicial nominations get confirmed as a result, Grassley said, especially with the GOP holding the Senate.

“We’re never going to get all the judges done between now and Christmas. They go over to next year,” the Iowa Republican said. “If this bill doesn’t get done now, and we work with a Democrat House next year, there’s going to be a bill that fewer Republicans will support, fewer chances of getting it done.”

Grassley spoke at an event on criminal justice and sentencing issues hosted by The Washington Post, appearing alongside Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, one of his partners in the criminal justice legislation.

“We don’t have to deal with a Democratic House of Representatives when we do our human resource job that the Constitution gives the Senate,” Grassley said. “It would be a very legitimate trade-off if time is a factor. And I’m not sure if time is a legitimate excuse, but doing two less judges to get a criminal justice reform bill would be a very good trade-off as far as I’m concerned.”

Supporters now think they could get 75 votes or more, if they can only convince a Kentucky Republican to grant floor time.

The move by the House toward a two-week continuing resolution means there would be enough of a gap, Durbin said, even with other priorities such as the farm bill conference report.

“In the meantime, there are ways to move this bill, and Sen. McConnell now has adequate time. Two weeks is enough time for him to move this bill,” Durbin said of the majority leader.

Grassley has scheduled a Judiciary Committee markup for Thursday for the next batch of judicial nominations, but he said he wasn’t sure how many of them could advance anyway. That is because GOP Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona has continued to oppose advancing judges over his desire to secure a Senate floor vote on legislation designed to shied special counsel Robert S. Mueller III from improper firing.

“We can’t [advance judges] as long as Flake is not going to vote with us. We’re not going to deal with judges that we’re going to lose 10-11,” Grassley said. “Some of them will get some bipartisanship.”

Both Durbin and Grassley praised Jared Kushner, the presidential son-in-law and senior White House adviser, for moving the ball forward, and Grassley also praised Trump’s personal support.

But he did have an idea for how the occupant of the White House could be even more useful to the cause.

“If he wanted to help, if he’d call this senator or that senator that I’d give him the name of and says you’re just about on board, why don’t you declare for this bill,” Grassley said.

Indiana Sen. Todd Young, the incoming chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, became the latest member of the GOP to tout support for the bill Tuesday.

“The First Step Act will make needed reforms to our criminal justice system to reduce recidivism, create fairer sentencing requirements, and prepare inmates to be successful members of society,” Young said in a statement. “I am proud to support this bipartisan legislation, and I will continue working with Indiana stakeholders to ensure that it accomplishes its goal creating a fairer and more effective criminal justice system, and ensuring non-violent inmates become successful law-abiding citizens when they return to society.”

When asked about the overall engagement of the president, including the fact that Trump is tweeting other things (such as complaints about the Mueller investigation of Russian election interference), Grassley said, “Listen, the president could solve all of his problems if he’d just show his wife the tweet before he punches the send button.”

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