For several years before Donald Trump became president, Democrats and Republicans like Lindsey Graham had been pushing for shorter jail sentences and early release for certain kinds of federal criminals. They hadn’t gotten far.
That changed dramatically when Jared Kushner persuaded his father-in-law to back leniency legislation. In short order, Republican resistance crumbled and a version of leniency for drug felons was signed into law.
Now, according to Politico, President Trump believes the leniency legislation is a “dud” and “he’s mad that he did it.” Trump doesn’t tout the law as one of his accomplishments:
Indeed, for months, the president has glossed over his son-in-law’s signature legislative achievement at his campaign rallies. If he brings up criminal justice reform, it’s almost always to mock his predecessors for their inability to get it done. Otherwise, as he did at his three most recent campaign events, he skips over it entirely, [talking] about unresolved issues like trade and immigration instead of plugging one of the few bipartisan triumphs of his administration.
As I discussed here, Kushner has been claiming that, thanks to the leniency legislation, felons are registering to vote as Republicans. Trump apparently is not impressed. According to Politico, he’s “furious at Jared” for making this ridiculous claim.
Has Trump changed his mind on the merits of leniency legislation? Not according to Politico:
It would be difficult to say it’s a change of heart. I don’t think his heart was ever really in it,” said one White House official, adding that some Trump aides questioned why the president — who once declared himself “the law and order candidate” — endorsed the First Step Act in the first place.
White House staffers have remarked to one another on the irony that Trump wants to give the death penalty to criminals like drug smugglers, but also supported legislation that would greenlight the early release of some non-violent drug offenders.
The irony was not lost on us, either.
Politico’s story leaves the impression that Trump’s disillusionment with the leniency legislation has less to do with the merits (which haven’t changed) than with his sense that he’s not getting enough credit for pushing the legislation through:
During the Oval Office meeting this spring, Trump complained that Democratic co-sponsors of the First Step Act skipped the bill signing at the White House last December (Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island., was the only Democrat to attend) and have refused to give him credit for passing prison reform when his immediate predecessor couldn’t, according to two people with knowledge of the meeting. He’s said as much publicly in recent days, writing in a tweet earlier this month: “I got it done with a group of Senators & others who would never have gone for it. Obama couldn’t come close.”
The tweet came after NBC’s Lester Holt omitted any mention of Trump’s role in advancing criminal justice reform during a televised town hall on the network. The president felt the televised special was disingenuous and thought singer John Legend, who participated in it, “paraded himself out like he was the great savior of criminal justice reform,” according to a senior administration official.
Trump has also complained privately about Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), who worked with Kushner to pass criminal justice reform in the House, but has been critical of the president ever since. Jeffries, who chairs the House Democratic caucus, called Trump “the grand wizard of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue” during a Martin Luther King Jr. Day event in January.
This account rings true. With Trump, personalities and getting credit sometimes play an outsized in how he views matters of public policy.