Last month, President Trump announced his support for FIRST STEP. This legislation provides leniency for federal drug felons by shortening some sentences at the front end, and leniency for federal felons of many stripes at the back end by enabling early release from prison.
It wasn’t clear why Trump made this decision, which is inconsistent with his promise to get tougher with fentanyl dealers. Perhaps it was constant pestering from Jared Kushner. Maybe it was an effort to appear “bipartisan” following GOP’s setback in the election. Possibly he wasn’t given an honest description of what the legislation does.
Whatever caused Trump to join Team Leniency, he doesn’t seem to be a wholehearted member. Mitch McConnell, who has never wanted this sort of jailbreak legislation, doesn’t seem at all eager to divide his caucus by pushing FIRST STEP to a floor vote. And according to Politico, Trump seems to be okay with this so far:
Although Trump has publicly endorsed the bipartisan prison and sentencing reform bill, he hasn’t publicly called out McConnell for bottling it up and seems reluctant to spend political capital on the legislation — raising doubts among bill supporters and opponents about how invested Trump really is. Indeed, the president is far more interested in securing money for his border wall in the lame duck, according to senators in both parties.
Imagine: a president who would rather focus on preventing illegal immigrants from entering the country than on letting big-time drug dealers out of jail early. What has America come to?
Trump, by the way, isn’t bashful about leaning on McConnell. As Politico notes, “the last time Donald Trump thought Mitch McConnell was stalling one of his priorities — on Obamacare repeal — the president publicly lashed out at the Senate majority leader, tweeting that he should “get back to work.”
Imagine: a president who sees the urgency of keeping his core campaign promise to repeal left-wing health insurance legislation, but not of breaking his promise to get tougher on the drug dealers whose criminal conduct is fueling a public health crisis.
As for the Majority Leader, Politico concludes:
McConnell has never endorsed the bill and is intent on confirming judges, avoiding a shutdown and clinching a deal on the farm bill.
Each of these goals is more deserving of Senate floor time than leniency for federal felons. So is anything else the Senate conceivably might take up.