The House overwhelmingly passed a major overhaul of the nation’s criminal justice laws on Thursday, marking a bipartisan achievement for lawmakers in both chambers and President Donald Trump in the waning days of the 115th Congress.
The bill cleared the House 358-36 after passing in the Senate earlier this week. Trump, who used his bully pulpit to prod reluctant Senate GOP leaders to take action on the legislation, is expected to sign the bill into law by Friday.
The final House vote follows an intense, yearlong lobbying effort from an unexpected group of allies including Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, Kim Kardashian, the American Civil Liberties Union, liberal Democrats, conservative Republicans and the Koch network.
“We have an incredible coalition of the unusual suspects,” said New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, the lead Democratic sponsor in the House. Jeffries worked for months with Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), Kushner and others to keep the bill alive, even as former Attorney General Jeff Sessions and some Senate Republicans worked behind the scenes to tank it.
“If you have a situation where Democrats and Republicans, progressives and conservatives, the left and the right, the ACLU and the Koch brothers, Doug Collins and Hakeem Jeffries… along with Trump are all on the same page, this should happen now,” Jeffries said.
The overhaul is a huge victory for a Congress that has struggled to pass major bipartisan bills in Trump’s first two years.
And the bill’s passage comes as Congress is teetering on the brink of yet another government shutdown. House Republicans were in disarray Thursday over whether to pass a simple funding bill or dig in and fight for Trump’s $5 billion border wall with government funding set to expire Friday.
The criminal justice bill passed the Senate on an 87-12 vote Tuesday, just days after some senior senators were declaring the legislation dead until the next Congress.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was reluctant to bring up the bill for a vote given the deep divisions within his conference. McConnell, who ultimately relented after repeated pressure from Trump, supported the bill in the end.
The legislation increases funding for educational and vocational training for prisoners in a bid to reduce recidivism rates. The bill also equalizes sentencing for drug offenses involving crack cocaine and powder cocaine. The change is retroactive, meaning it would reduce the sentences for thousands of prisoners currently in jail on crack convictions.
The bill also makes some changes to mandatory minimum laws for drug offenses, including giving federal judges discretion to make exceptions on a case-by-case basis. And the legislation reduces the three-strike penalty from life in prison to 25 years.
“This will keep our communities safer, and provide hope and a second chance, to those who earn it,” Trump tweeted earlier this week. “In addition to everything else, billions of dollars will be saved. I look forward to signing this into law!”