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Revised criminal justice reform bill circulating; White House still supports original

President Donald Trump (C), Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (L), Vice President Mike Pence (2ndfrom R) and Senator Lindsey Graham (R) participate in a roundtable on the FIRST STEP Act in Gulfport, Mississippi on November 26, 2018. (JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

The Department of Justice has created a revised version of a bipartisan criminal justice reform bill in an attempt to appease opponents of the original, including Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), according to The Washington Free Beacon.

Cotton and some other lawmakers, as well as several law enforcement organizations, oppose the First Step Act due to some of its reforms that could potentially release dangerous criminals from prison early.

A White House spokesman told Axios that the White House is still in support of the original bill, which Trump has publicly endorsed.

What's different about this version: According to Axios, which obtained a draft of the Justice Department revisions, the new version decreases the number of prisoners eligible for sentence reduction through rehabilitation programs, prevents judges from giving less than mandatory minimum sentences in certain situations, and reduces the amount of "good time credit" an inmate can earn.

What impact do these changes have? While these changes would make the bill more favorable to some hesitant conservatives, it could alienate some Democrats who might think it doesn't go far enough in its reforms. Throughout this process, reducing mandatory minimums has been a key point for Democrats.

Circulating a revised version could also serve to slow down the efforts to get a bill to the floor for a vote, something Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said he won't do until and unless he's sure it has enough support from GOP lawmakers.

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) said 22 senators have confirmed to him that they'd vote yes on the original bill, and an additional 15 are leaning yes. But that still leaves some work to be done to have enough support to get to the floor.

Time is of the essence, as McConnell has already expressed hesitance to spend valuable time in this lame duck session on criminal justice reform with spending and border security issues to get handled.

What was Cotton's opposition? Cotton, one of the most vocal and active opponents of the original First Step Act, has pointed out provisions in the bill that could allow sex offenders and people who have assaulted law enforcement officers to get out early.

One last thing…
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