President Trump’s allies in the fight to reform the criminal justice system believe Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) is trying to undermine the bill’s success. 

Reform remains a top priority for the president before his party relinquishes full control of Congress. (Washington Examiner)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is taking a hands-off approach to the measure, known as the First Step Act. That has put the onus on Cornyn, and made the Texas Republican the focus of criminal justice reformers who fret that a rare opportunity to revamp federal prison operations and sentencing guidelines could slip away.

Cornyn is balancing competing concerns: McConnell’s apprehension about the limitations of the Senate calendar in the post-election, lame duck session, with a must-pass government funding bill, the farm bill, and judicial nominations left to process; significant GOP opposition led by Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., a Trump ally on most issues; and a hard sell in favor of the bill from the White House, led by Trump and Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law.

Some Republicans and political operatives involved in the effort to pass the First Step Act are speculating that Cornyn, who in the past championed elements of criminal justice reform, is simply acting as McConnell’s agent. Cornyn’s priority could simply be to prevent a lengthy floor debate that would divide the GOP conference and eat up precious floor time that could be used for top conservative priorities. The Christmas holiday is essentially three weeks away.

But in an interview Wednesday, Cornyn flatly rejected accusations that he opposes the House-passed First Step Act or is scheming to delay a vote on the legislation until next year, when it would have to be revived and voted on all over again by the 116th Congress. “That’s false,” the No. 2 ranking Senate Republican told the Washington Examiner.

However, proponents worry if the bill is bumped to next year, the newly sworn in Democratic majority in the House would move it far to the left, making it unpalatable to Senate Republicans.

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments