Senators, Kushner prepare to launch sentencing overhaul push in lame duck session

Adviser, son-in-law leading prison reform

By JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN
Al Drago-Pool/Getty Images

Senior White House Adviser Jared Kushner listens during a Cabinet meeting on May 9, 2018.

(CNN) - White House officials and a bipartisan group of senators are mounting an ambitious effort to push criminal justice legislation through Congress by the end of the year, four sources close to the process told CNN.

But first, Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, who has been leading the White House's prison and sentencing overhaul push, must ensure the President is on board with the latest version of the measure. Kushner is slated to meet with Trump on Tuesday to press him to back the legislation, a senior administration official said.

The gears are also turning on Capitol Hill, where Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, is expected to order a whip count later this week, with a promise to move the bill to the Senate floor if there are 60 votes supporting it, three sources familiar with the matter said.

The new legislation would:

  • Eliminate "stacking" provisions that result in offenders serving consecutive sentences for crimes committed using firearms.
  • Shorten mandatory minimum sentences, including reverting life imprisonment to a 25-year minimum for those convicted under the "three strikes" provision.
  • Expand the "drug safety valve" to reduce the number of nonviolent drug offenders receiving mandatory minimum sentences.

The legislation would also expand on sentencing legislation passed in 2010 that reduces the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine convictions, extending the revisions retroactively to those convicted under the previous statute.

The New York Times first reported on the new compromise legislation, and a source with access to the measure confirmed its contents to CNN.

The compromise legislation, a revamped version of the First Step Act, was crafted by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican, Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah alongside Kushner and a small group of sentencing overhaul advocates outside government, three sources familiar with the matter said.

The White House and its allies are buoyed about the prospects for the legislation following the ouster of Attorney General Jeff Sessions -- a key opponent of the measure -- and key endorsements from two police associations, the Fraternal Order of Police and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

One person close to the matter said that while the prospects for the measure several weeks ago seemed glum, its odds of passing now are above 50%.

The White House and Republican leaders on Capitol Hill agreed in August to postpone the legislation until after the midterm elections.

One source close to the process said that after the midterms -- which will bring shifting partisan dynamics to Congress in January -- White House officials working on the effort recognized they needed to move forward now.

"It's the lame duck or never strategy," one source close to the process said.

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