Trump Endorses Criminal Sentencing Bill With Swipe at Clinton

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump endorsed proposed legislation that would change criminal sentencing rules and provide new assistance to some ex-cons, in a bid to build momentum for a bill that top Senate Republicans say is unlikely to pass this year.

Trump stressed that the legislation was a “bipartisan agreement” that had also earned the support of law enforcement groups, but no Democratic lawmakers joined him at a White House event on Wednesday.

And the president took the opportunity to take a swipe at former President Bill Clinton. He said the new legislation would repeal provisions of Clinton’s 1994 anti-crime law -- written by a potential 2020 challenger, then-Senate Judiciary Chairman Joe Biden -- that “disproportionately affected the African-American community.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said hours earlier that there was no consensus on the bill, casting doubt on whether the Senate will act on the issue before the end of the year. McConnell said he told backers they must have a deal before he’ll gauge whether there’s enough support to hold a vote during the upcoming lame duck session.

“We don’t have a lot of time left,” McConnell said. The sentencing overhaul would compete for time with other year-end priorities, including spending bills needed to keep the government open and a farm bill.

But Trump said lawmakers should “work hard” and “act quickly.” The bill will “make our communities safer and give former inmates a second chance at life after they’ve served their time,” the president said.

The House in May passed legislation that would provide $50 million annually through 2023 for programs aimed at curbing recidivism. Changes the new legislation would make to Clinton’s crime law include reductions in enhanced penalties and so-called “three strikes” lifetime sentences for some non-violent drug offenders.

The president has sought in recent months to improve his standing with black voters, inviting prominent African American athletes and artists -- including Kanye West and Jim Brown -- to the White House. But some Democrats have complained the overhaul doesn’t go far enough, and it’s possible they could withhold their support if they believe they can get a better deal when their party takes control of the House of Representatives in January.

Still, Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa -- who attended Wednesday’s White House event -- and Dick Durbin of Illinois, the no. 2 Democrat in the Senate, said in a joint statement that the president’s endorsement was an “important step in our shared effort to promote safe communities and improve justice.”

“We are grateful for the White House’s ongoing engagement to make these long-overdue reforms a reality,” the pair, who are co-sponsoring the legislation, said in a statement. “With the President’s support and Leader McConnell’s pledge to hold a vote on the broadly popular package, we can quickly take a critical first step towards reforming our criminal justice system.”

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.