When Donald Trump finally stopped dragging his feet and announced support for a very modest and very bipartisan prison and sentencing-reform bill last month — one that his son-in-law Jared Kushner did a lot to customize for his approval — it looked like it might actually be enacted, in no small part because Republicans knew that with Democrats taking over the House in January a whole new deal would probably have to be worked out if there were further delays. But cynics like yours truly weren’t convinced:
The simple truth is that a blunt phone call from Donald Trump to McConnell insisting on a vote for the bill — and maybe additional calls to Cotton and Kennedy and other opponents, asking them to back off — would almost certainly do the trick. You have to figure that McConnell is protecting POTUS from something happening that he’s half-hearted about to begin with — as his reluctance to do anything about this legislation for the first two years of his presidency suggests.
That’s how Politico sees it a couple of weeks later, with time running out.
Although Trump has publicly endorsed the bipartisan prison and sentencing reform bill, he hasn’t publicly called out McConnell for bottling it up and seems reluctant to spend political capital on the legislation — raising doubts among bill supporters and opponents about how invested Trump really is. Indeed, the president is far more interested in securing money for his border wall in the lame duck, according to senators in both parties.
One theory is that while Trump was willing to publicly take Mitch to the woodshed back when the Senate was regularly failing him, he’s feeling more benevolent toward the devious old wire-puller right now:
McConnell has delivered two Supreme Court justices and tax reform, earning trust from the president and proving the GOP leader knows what’s best for his conference. McConnell’s allies kept reminding the president in the summer of 2017, despite Trump’s anger, that the GOP was short of the votes to repeal Obamacare.
But doubts persist not only about McConnell’s position on the merits of the bill (he has never taken one), but about Trump’s, too:
Trump is hazy on the details and has privately raised some concerns about the bill. He’s also caught between different factions in his own White House, according to a Republican who speaks frequently with the president — with chief of staff John Kelly and White House advisers Kellyanne Conway and Stephen Miller reluctant to move forward and Ivanka Trump, Donald Trump Jr. and Kushner pushing for the legislation.
In any event, if Trump’s Twitter account stays silent on the matter, don’t be surprised if the bill dies, and with it, hopes that Congress could emulate the bipartisan progress on criminal-justice reform that some states have accomplished.
Perhaps the president prefers to celebrate the holiday season by threatening to shut down the federal government in a nasty fight over his nativist border wall proposal rather than giving a small nudge to bipartisan legislation emulating Jesus Christ’s concerns for those in prison. Some of his conservative Evangelical fans should remind him of St. Paul’s injunction in his Epistle to the Hebrews:
Keep on loving each other as brothers. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.