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Trump backs bipartisan criminal justice bill -- but his acting AG has some concerns

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U.S. President Donald Trump makes an announcement regarding the "First Step Act" prison reform bill, on Wednesday at the White House in Washington, D.C. But acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker reportedly has some concerns. (JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump announced his support for bipartisan criminal justice reform Wednesday, but the acting attorney general, like his predecessor, has some "concerns" about the bill, according to The Washington Post.

Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker reportedly expressed his concerns about the newly introduced criminal justice reform bill to President Donald Trump and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), although Graham said Whitaker is not interested in killing the bill.

Whitaker's concerns are related to the way the bill changes drug sentencing guidelines. Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions was an opponent of the reforms.

What will the bill do? The bill, the First Step Act, focuses on reducing incarceration rates by easing sentencing for nonviolent drug offenders. It would lower mandatory minimum sentences for drug felonies, as well as turn the "third strike" penalty to a 25-year sentence rather than a life sentence.

The bill would also qualify thousands of prisoners for potential early release by reducing the harsh punishments that were given to some crack cocaine offenders and changing the way "good time credit" is calculated, allowing prisoners to accrue more time for good behavior.

Will it get done this year? While many believe the votes are there in the House and Senate to pass the bill, lawmakers are up against the calendar.

“I support getting the bill some floor time and getting it to move forward,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said. “I’m a little skeptical about our ability to do that during a lame-duck, absent consent . . . nothing happens quickly around here.”

Trump ready to sign on: Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner has been a key figure in the developing the bill, and Wednesday Trump put his full support behind it.

“These members have reached a bipartisan agreement … on prison reform legislation," Trump said. "Today I’m thrilled to announce my support. I urge lawmakers in both House and Senate to work hard and to act quickly and send a final bill to my desk, and I look very much forward to signing it.”

Van Jones and Jessica Jackson Sloan, co-founders of the organization #cut50, have also been instrumental in moving the bill forward.

"Today, the President ended the notion that our criminal justice system was designed only to incarcerate and punish and not rehabilitate or heal," Sloan said in a statement. "The FIRST STEP Act is exactly that — a start to the long process of unwinding mass incarceration and bringing fairness and Dignity to the people in its grasp. We thank President Trump for his support and urge Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to move this bill forward quickly.”

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