WASHINGTON - Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley met with White House adviser Jared Kushner about criminal justice reform Thursday, giving supporters a small sign of encouragement that the issue could be revived under President Donald Trump.
The bipartisan effort to overhaul the nation's criminal justice system would have revised 1980s- and -90s-era federal "tough on crime" laws by reducing some mandatory sentences for low-level drug offenders and giving judges greater discretion in sentencing, among other changes. The goal was to reduce overcrowding in the nation's prisons and save taxpayer dollars.
But the bill died in the Senate last year over conservative opposition, and its future has seemed unclear under Trump. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, then a senator from Alabama, was a fierce opponent.
Former President Barack Obama was an enthusiastic backer of the effort, but supporters of the bill were skeptical that Trump would follow suit, since he had dubbed himself "law-and-order candidate" and talked about a country in crisis, with terrorism in big cities and attacks on police.
Grassley, an Iowa Republican, confirmed the meeting with Kushner, Trump's adviser and son-in-law, which was first reported by BuzzFeed News, but he would not comment on its substance. The White House did not have immediate comment.
On whether the bill could be revived, Grassley said, "We're trying to reach some accommodation, if there needs to be any adjustment to the bill we had last year."
An unusual coalition — including the American Civil Liberties Union and the conservative Koch Industries — says the system is broken and supports changes. Grassley, Texas' John Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, and Illinois' Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, were sponsors of the bill. House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, has also been a strong supporter of the effort.
Advocates were encouraged by the meeting. Holly Harris of the Justice Action Network said she was hopeful that lawmakers in Congress were paying attention to several successful state efforts to make similar changes. And given the bipartisan support, she said, it's legislation that has a real chance of passing.
"Congress needs to prove it can accomplish something, and this is the perfect issue," she said.