House Speaker Paul Ryan is facing a major obstacle in his months-long quest to pass criminal justice reform: unenthused House Republicans still skittish about looking soft on crime.
The Wisconsin Republican for weeks has repeated his personal desire to move a bipartisan package that would include allowing well-behaved nonviolent prisoners to be eligible for early release and easing some drug-related sentencing requirements.
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It would mark a major accomplishment for the speaker, and a chance for Republicans to show racial minorities they care about issues of social justice — plus a salient, positive message countering Donald Trump’s racially charged bid for the White House.
But the odds are decidedly long. With Trump advocating for controversial policies like systematic “stop and frisk,” and the protests in Charlotte, North Carolina, against police-involved shootings causing racial tensions to flare, Ryan’s conference is not eager to vote on the matter. An internal GOP leadership “survey” last week taking House Republicans’ temperature on the issue showed that most members were lukewarm at best.
That means that if Ryan wants to make a push for criminal justice reform after the election, he will have his work cut out.
“It’s not an easy thing to make these reforms, and the [Judiciary] committee has taken some time doing it; now they’re taking time educating members on it,” Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said Monday of a package of bills drafted by the Judiciary Committee. “It is a priority for the speaker. There are concerns … so we’re getting all the questions answered.”
The Judiciary panel last year passed 11 bills to reform federal sentencing laws and improve the prison re-entry system. While the package would not eliminate mandatory minimum sentences, it would significantly reduce sentences for nonviolent drug offenders. It would also create a program to reduce recidivism rates.
The politics of criminal …