Last week, it was determined that the leniency-for-drug felons legislation being pushed by Democrats and some Republicans will not be brought to the Senate floor before the November elections. Left open was the question of whether it will be brought to the Senate floor afterwards.
The answer to that question lies, I believe, in the position President Trump takes. If he supports leniency-for-felons legislation, it might well get a floor vote, though it still might not if there’s substantial opposition within the Republican caucus. If Trump opposes the legislation, it seems likely that Majority Leader McConnell will keep it bottled up. And if Trump opposes the legislation strongly enough to veto it, then McConnell almost certainly will kill it.
Where does Trump stand on the leniency legislation? According to this report in the Washington Free Beacon, he “strongly opposes” it.
This makes sense. As I noted here, it seems unlikely that a president talking about getting tough on fentanyl dealers, and indeed about the death penalty for some of them, would back a bill that reduces their jail time.
The Free Beacon article confirms that the irrationality of such a posture is at the heart of Trump’s opposition to leniency legislation:
[Trump’s concerns with the bill] first came up during a Thursday morning meeting between Trump and a number of Senate Republicans. . .a Senate source close to negotiations said. Trump and the group spent the final ten minutes of the meeting “trashing” the bill, with Trump explicitly saying that he would never support a bill that lets fentanyl traffickers go free.
Similar concerns arose in the following meeting, in which Trump told Kushner and Attorney General Jeff Sessions that he was a no go on FIRST STEP. Sessions and Trump agreed that reduced sentences for drug traffickers was not the way to go, a senior administration official familiar with the meeting told the Free Beacon. In fact, the two men concluded that Congress should consider strengthening trafficking sentences, especially for fentanyl dealers, up to and including the death penalty.
Team Leniency is quite unlikely to satisfy Trump’s desire to punish anyone more harshly than current law provides. Sen. Mike Lee, a key Republican supporter of leniency for drug felons, has said as much.
Thus, assuming the Free Beacon’s reporting is accurate, we can expect that President Trump will continue to oppose leniency legislation and that, therefore, the legislation will go nowhere. But this outcome is hardly assured. Opponents cannot let down their guard. And with Sen. Tom Cotton leading the opposition, I’m confident it won’t.