A bipartisan pair of senior senators is trying to keep criminal-justice-reform legislation from falling victim to the bitter dispute over the Supreme Court.
Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin said he met with Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley on Thursday to discuss the bill, which is already facing big hurdles due to opposition from some Republicans.
“I said to Chuck today, and we shook hands on it, these are two separate issues, and we are going to keep them separate. We have an important job to do on both,” Durbin told National Journal.
Grassley and Durbin are lead authors of the bipartisan Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act. But they—and the full Senate—are at loggerheads over the GOP’s preemptive refusal to even have the Judiciary Committee consider President Obama’s upcoming nominee to replace the late Antonin Scalia.
The bill cleared the Judiciary Committee in the fall, but it has stalled as some conservative GOP lawmakers, including Tom Cotton and Jeff Sessions, are attacking the legislation, arguing that it would endanger public safety.
Sponsors of the bill are working in several changes to the measure aimed at winning more backing among Republicans. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has not yet said whether the bill will come before the full Senate.
“Both of us want to see this bill move forward. We have some hurdles, but we are not giving up,” Durbin said. An aide to Grassley confirmed the meeting, which happened off the Senate floor, and that work on the bill is continuing.
The bill is aimed at easing federal mandatory-minimum sentences for certain nonviolent drug- and firearms-possession offenses. It also would give federal prisoners incentives to take part in programs that are designed to cut recidivism risks.
Criminal-justice reform is among the few areas of potential deal-making between President Obama and the GOP-led Congress this year. It’s a priority for Obama, and House Speaker Paul Ryan hopes to move forward as well.