Democratic and even a few Republican lawmakers criticized the move. This Wednesday, Senators Lee, Booker, Durbin, and Rand Paul went so far as to send Sessions an open letter, questioning the logic behind the May 10 memorandum and fretting that it “will result in counterproductive sentences that will do nothing to make the public safer.” They have given the attorney general 30 days to respond to laundry list of questions regarding the new policy.
Complicating matters further, one of last year’s key SRCA backers, Senator John Cornyn, has begun toying with a new bill of his own. Cornyn is collaborating with House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul on a measure that would jack up mandatory minimums for certain immigrants and for people who commit violent crimes against law enforcement officials. This move isn’t a total about-face for Cornyn. Last year, he introduced a “Back the Blue” bill establishing steep mandatory minimums for crimes against law enforcement. More broadly, multiple Hill aides point out that Cornyn has always been in the “back-end” reform camp and has made clear he’d be just as happy to split his pet programs back off of SRCA.
At this point, folks on both sides of the aisle see Cornyn’s emerging proposal as more of a messaging move than an attempt at serious legislation. Even so, a competing bill is hardly welcome news to his reform colleagues. As a Judiciary Committee staffer noted, “A good amount of work went into putting together [SRCA]. It’s like an ecosystem: Change one thing and something else is changed.”
Bottom line, say Hill aides: For anything to happen on criminal-justice reform, Congress will need a kick in the pants from the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. “It’s going to be difficult to move forward if we’re not able to build support in the administration,” said the Judiciary Committee staffer.
With Sessions charging in the opposite direction, Kushner is seen as the cause’s last, best hope. If Trump’s beloved son-in-law would climb on board, say aides, the situation could get super interesting in a Jared vs. Jeff reality TV-style smackdown. Said a senior Democratic staffer, “If Kushner gets behind this effort and decides this is good for Trump, we’re gonna find out whether he has any influence with the president or not.”
Alas, for now Kushner is preoccupied with his own “drama,” sighed a Republican aide, noting, “We’re still trying to get a face-to-face with him.”
Of course, with each passing day, it matters less what Kushner does. Congress is grotesquely behind in handling even its top priorities of healthcare and tax reform, and things will get exponentially worse as the fall budget battles approach. Even the most upbeat reform advocates sound blue when discussing the congressional calendar. “The pace at which the Senate is moving right now is a problem,” acknowledged the Judiciary Committee staffer.
Translation: Despite its lovely, bipartisan promise, the prospects for significant criminal-justice reform are—if not totally dead—only slightly worse than the odds that Kushner will go down in history as father of the Israeli-Palestinian peace accords.