Today's Paper Search Latest New app In the news Traffic #Gazette200 Listen Digital replica FAQ Weather Newsletters Obits Puzzles + Games Archive
story.lead_photo.caption FILE — In this 2017 file photo, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., speaks during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton said on Tuesday that legislation to overhaul the nation's sentencing laws still has "major problems," which he said he will take up while debating the issue on the Senate floor.

Under pressure from President Donald Trump and many of his Republican colleagues, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that he will bring the legislation to the floor.

McConnell's decision comes after more than three years of overtures from a large, bipartisan group of senators who support the criminal justice bill, including Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley and House Speaker Paul Ryan. Trump announced his support for the legislation last month, but McConnell treaded cautiously and said the bill was among a number of competing priorities for the lame-duck session.

Texas Sen. John Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican, said Trump's push for the legislation had been "critical to the outcome here."

"Senator McConnell was always concerned about the small window of time that we have to do all these things we need to do, but the president was insistent that this be included," he said.

Cotton, R-Arkansas, said he agreed with some changes made to the bill, but he said it still has problems.

“For months I’ve said the First Step Act allows violent felons and sex offenders to be released early," he said in a statement. "I’m pleased the drafters have finally acknowledged that reality and made changes to address some of the specific issues I pointed out. Unfortunately, the bill still has major problems and allows early release for many categories of serious, violent criminals. This includes felons who commit violent bank robberies with dangerous weapons, who assault children, and who commit carjacking with the intent to cause death."

Cotton added he looks "forward to debating this bill on the Senate floor and introducing amendments to address its many remaining threats to public safety.”

If the legislation passes, it could be a rare bipartisan policy achievement for this Congress and the largest sentencing overhaul in decades.

Most Democrats support the bill, which would revise 1980s and '90s-era "tough on crime" laws to boost rehabilitation efforts for federal prisoners and give judges more discretion when sentencing nonviolent offenders, particularly for drug offenses. Supporters say the changes would make the nation's criminal justice system fairer, reduce overcrowding in federal prisons and save taxpayer dollars.

The legislation has been a priority for Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who has worked behind the scenes with supportive Republican senators over the last two years and pushed Trump to support it. It was also a top issue for former President Barack Obama, who had hoped to see the bill become law before he left office.

Supporters have long said that the bill would pass if McConnell would just put it on the floor. But McConnell appeared to have concerns that it would divide his caucus.

McConnell said he was moving the bill as soon as this week "at the request of the president" and following improvements to the legislation. A revised bill makes some changes requested by Senate Republicans and law enforcement groups who had concerns it would be too soft on some offenders.

Cornyn announced Tuesday morning that he had requested changes to the bill to bring on more Republicans. He said one of the changes was to ensure that fewer firearms offenders got reduced sentences.

"My goal all along has been trying to grow the vote and gain support for the law enforcement community, and I think the bill has improved as a result, and I think the prospects for passage are much better," he said.

Cornyn said similar sentencing reforms on the state level in Texas show that criminal justice overhaul can be successful.

"Texas is proof positive that you can close the revolving door of incarceration, reduce crime, and save taxpayer dollars at the same time," Cornyn said.

It's unclear how long it will take to move the bill. McConnell said senators should be prepared to stay in session the week following Christmas if necessary to complete their work.

Grassley has grown frustrated in recent days as he has questioned why McConnell wouldn't move the bill in the final days of this Congress. And Trump has tweeted at McConnell to ask him to move.

"Hopefully Mitch McConnell will ask for a VOTE on Criminal Justice Reform," Trump tweeted last week. "It is extremely popular and has strong bipartisan support. It will also help a lot of people, save taxpayer dollars, and keep our communities safe. Go for it Mitch!"

Minutes later Grassley tweeted that he and the president had spoken about "the growing support" for the legislation.

"Pres Trump told me he wants it done THIS CONGRESS," Grassley tweeted.

Supporters who have been pushing the bill for years — including many law enforcement organizations, liberal advocacy groups and major GOP donors — were elated.

"It's an incredibly groundbreaking moment and it's really emotional for the broad coalition who has worked so hard on this legislation for so many years," said Holly Harris, executive director of the advocacy group Justice Action Network. "I never doubted the leader would be on the right side of history on this bill."

Read Wednesday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.

Print Headline: U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton says sentencing reform bill still has 'major problems'


Sponsor Content

You must be signed in to post comments


  • condoleezza
    December 11, 2018 at 11:24 a.m.

    There is no bigger problem in congress than Tom Cotton. A horrible excuse for a human being who wants to lock up even more Americans. If only we could start with his President. Also, for a guy who claims to represent Arkansas, how much of his adult life has been spent here? Between the military and politics, he has lived well off our tax dollars. And yet, he does everything possible to benefit the rich and powerful while we regular folks work actual jobs to pay his salary. When is he ever going to listen to, or represent, Arkansawyers like me rather than the echo chamber within his tiny little brain?

  • UoABarefootPhdFICYMCA
    December 11, 2018 at 11:50 a.m.

    Tom Cotton is a whorible person.

  • hah406
    December 11, 2018 at 12:39 p.m.

    Cotton is flat out lying and fear mongering for personal gain. This bill doesn't release violent career felons. The "tough on crime" and "war on drugs" from the 80's and 90's didn't work. Would you rather have an ex-con next door who has been through some rehabilitation, some job training, and can get gainful employment, or one who has had nothing, can't get a job, and has idol time on his hands?

  • GeneralMac
    December 11, 2018 at 1:16 p.m.

    Bloomberg was so upset with Democrat senators who voted against Barack HUSSEIN Obama's endorsed gun control bill that he targeted them for DEFEAT.

    He named Prypr (D-AR) by name.

    Pryor got defeated.

    How do you fellow Arkansans like that Cotton fella?

    I think he's just fine !

    December 11, 2018 at 1:27 p.m.

    Some people view the criminal justice system as corrective and some view it as punitive. Most view it as a combination of both. The bible calls for forgiveness. Tom Cotton calls for relentless punishment.

  • hurricane46
    December 11, 2018 at 1:46 p.m.

    Cotton is worthless to the people of Arkansas, let’s vote him out in 2020!

  • GeneralMac
    December 11, 2018 at 1:48 p.m.

    Why aren't car jackings and bank robberies , if guns are used, considered "violent crimes" ?
    Do we want thugs who rob and pistol whip people put back on the streets with only a 5pm VERBAL curfew? ( lil Boosi)

  • condoleezza
    December 11, 2018 at 1:53 p.m.

    GMaKKK. When was the last time you were "carjacked" by anyone other than Jack Daniels himself?

  • hah406
    December 11, 2018 at 2:25 p.m.

    Mac, it is because there is a difference between brandishing a gun and firing one. Cotton is so far out of line on this one that your idol Big Orange and the majority of the GOP are against him.

  • 0boxerssuddenlinknet
    December 11, 2018 at 2:59 p.m.

    WHICH law enforcement agencies have been pushing for this law for years ???? Thank you Senator Cotton for trying to keep Arkansans safe.