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McConnell, bowing to pressure from Trump, agrees to criminal justice reform vote

The Senate leader had been hesitant to address the issue this year

Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

After weeks of hesitating due to opposition within the GOP and concerns about time, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) agreed to bring a bipartisan criminal justice reform bill to a vote this month, according to USA Today.

The First Step Act, which addresses over-incarceration through sentencing reform and rehabilitation programs for inmates, has been publicly supported by President Donald Trump, White House advisor Jared Kushner, and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

"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 revised criminal justice bill this month," McConnell said on Tuesday.

How did Trump react? "Looks like it's going to be passing, hopefully—famous last words," Trump said. "It's really something we're all very proud of. Tremendous support from Republicans and tremendous support from Democrats. Lot of years they've been waiting for it."

Indeed, efforts to reform the criminal justice system predate Trump's presidency. Former President Barack Obama hoped to pass a similar initiative when he was in office.

What do opponents think? Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark) has been one of the leading opponents of the First Step Act, pointing to the possibility of dangerous criminals being released early under the bill's provisions. He said he plans to introduce amendments to the bill on the Senate floor, which could be a roadblock to the bill passing before the end of the year, according to ABC News.

If it doesn't pass before Democrats take control of the House, the future of the bill in its current form is in significant doubt. Democrats, some of whom want even more significant sentencing reforms, could attempt to rewrite the bill next year.

Advocacy groups optimistic: Jessica Jackson, co-founder of #cut50, a criminal justice advocacy organization, said she was disappointed in some of the concessions made in the bill but still pleased with McConnell's decision.

"But this is clearly a compromise bill, and it is just the first step toward fixing the many broken pieces of our federal justice system," Jackson said in a statement sent to TheBlaze. "The broad-based bipartisan support for these policies—in the halls of Congress and in states across the country—show that this first step will undoubtedly be followed by many more."

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