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Senate To Vote On Criminal Justice Bill After Push From Boosters, White House

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said members will now consider a criminal justice bill before the end of this year's lame-duck session.
Chip Somodevilla
Getty Images
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said members will now consider a criminal justice bill before the end of this year's lame-duck session.

Bowing to pressure from the White House and activist groups, the Senate will schedule a vote on legislation that would reduce sentences for certain drug offenders and support programs that prepare prisoners for life after incarceration.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he would move ahead with consideration of the bill before the end of this year's lame-duck session after sponsors agreed to certain changes to the package.

"At the request of the president and following improvements to the legislation that have been secured by several members, the Senate will take up the recently revised criminal justice bill," McConnell announced on Tuesday.

It's not certain when exactly a vote will take place, but the Senate could begin weighing the legislation as soon as the end of this week.

President Trump came out in favor of the legislative packagelast month, saying it was a rare "bipartisan" compromise and that it would help reduce crime.

But in the weeks that followed, the fate of the bill seemed uncertain. Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas was vocal in his opposition. Republican leaders in the Senate also seemed to cast doubt about whether there was enough support in their caucus to move ahead with the bill before this year's Congress expires.

Criminal justice activists pressed McConnell to act, urging the public to flood his office with messages of support. Proponents of the bill argued it had plenty of support from both parties.

Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law who serves as a top White House adviser, also lobbied for the bill. He promoted it during an appearance Monday night on Sean Hannity's Fox News show.

Making changes to the nation's prisons has been a top priority for Kushner, whose father spent time in federal prison.

Resistance in the Senate has convinced supporters of the bill to make some changes, including limiting the ability of judges to reduce sentences for certain offenders and excluding certain offenders from a supervised release program.

The House of Representatives also must pass the bill before it could go to the White House for Trump's signature. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has expressed support for the effort.

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Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.

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