First Step clears first hurdle in Senate in win for Trump

The Washington Post calls this a “rare bipartisan victory” for Donald Trump, and it might be the only significant cross-aisle win of the last two years. Late yesterday, the criminal-justice reform bill known as the First Step Act passed the Senate with 87 votes. The president cheered the result last night:

It’s a stunning outcome for a bill that almost died at the end of this session. Absent Trump’s assertive intervention, it wouldn’t have gotten a vote at all, with a significant amount of credit due to Jared Kushner as well:

The First Step Act passed on a vote of 87 to 12, with dozens of Republicans, including longtime holdout Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), joining all 49 members of the Democratic caucus to approve legislation that even some GOP supporters fear could leave them vulnerable to charges of being soft on crime.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) tried to allay those concerns shortly before the final vote, stressing that Trump “wants to be tough on crime, but fair on crime” — and had told him personally that he had his “pen ready to sign this bill.” …

The bill received a major boost last month when Trump endorsed it as “reasonable sentencing reforms while keeping dangerous and violent criminals off our streets.” His thinking was heavily influenced by his son-in-law and White House adviser Jared Kushner, who has long advocated sentencing restructuring and marshaled endorsements of the bill from a diverse coalition including law enforcement, and the American Civil Liberties Union.

I’d bet not too many people predicted two years ago that Trump’s biggest domestic policy triumph — in terms of support from Congress, anyway — would come in partnership with the ACLU. If you had that on your bingo card, congratulations.

Next up, the bill goes to the House. For less bipartisan efforts, that could be a problem, considering how many lame-duck members have ghosted Congress in the last month. They’re not all Republicans, either, nor all retiring or elected to other offices. With the broad support that this bill has already gathered, however, it should sail through the House even with a bare quorum on hand. They already passed an earlier version of First Step, but it requires a new vote because of changes made in the Senate. It will likely be the last major legislation that Paul Ryan gets to shepherd through the House, and he’s pledged to make sure it passes before the end of the session kills it.

So what’s in the bill? Nancy Cordes gives a thumbnail review of its provisions on CBS This Morning, noting the bipartisan nature of the provisions. They note that this only applies to federal prisons and courts, which should be obvious to anyone with a decent civics education, and … well … that’s why CBS needed to make that plain, in fairness.