A potentially significant wrench last week was thrown into U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley’s attempt to shepherd criminal justice reform through the Senate, and Grassley is not happy about it.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which Grassley leads, expressing the opinion that passing the justice reform bill would be a “grave error.”
Grassley expressed his feelings about Sessions’ letter in multiple national media interviews and during a committee meeting Thursday.
“I’m really irritated,” Grassley said during forceful remarks to the committee.
Grassley has spent multiple years working on the criminal justice reform bill, which has bipartisan support among federal lawmakers and the support of myriad justice advocacy groups.
The bill reduces penalties and provides judges with more sentencing discretion for nonviolent drug offenders, directs the federal justice department to identify and assist inmates with the highest likelihood of avoiding a return to prison, limits the use of solitary confinement for juveniles and improves criminal records reporting, among other provisions.
The bill has been supported by Republican senators including Mike Lee and Lindsey Graham, as well as Democrats, such as Dick Durbin, Cory Booker and Dianne Feinstein.
It also is supported by advocacy groups like the ACLU, NAACP, Families Against Mandatory Minimums and the American Conservative Union.
Sessions, in a letter dated Wednesday, said the legislation “presents issues of very great importance to the public safety of the United States.”
Sessions wrote he thinks the bill would undermine federal law enforcement efforts to reduce homicide, violent crimes and gang activity, and address the epidemic of opioid addiction.
Such a letter from the nation’s attorney general could make it more difficult for the legislation to pass, and that did not sit well with Grassley, who said he was especially frustrated given he supported Sessions’ nomination for attorney general — when many Democratic senators did not, making for a challenging confirmation process — and vouched for Sessions when President Donald Trump considered firing him.
“I consider (attorney) general Sessions a friend. I think we’ve worked together so many times over a long period of time. ... I don’t think that’s something that somebody should do to friends,” Grassley said at the committee hearing. “Now I know friends can disagree on issues, but this is something that he knows where I stood, he knows how hard it was to work out this compromise.”
Grassley said he also was frustrated to be told Sessions’ letter was approved by the White House’s Office of Management and Budget.
“For the very same reasons, that I’ve done things trying to help an administration to be successful, if they’re involved in this letter that also irritates me,” Grassley said.
Grassley noted public opinion polls show bipartisan support for criminal justice reform and defended the bill as one that strikes a balance between reducing jail time for some nonviolent offenders while maintaining public safety.
“Our justice system demands consequences for those who choose to run afoul of the law, and law enforcement works hard to keep our communities safe. This bipartisan compromise ensures that these consequences fit their crimes by targeting violent and career criminals who prey on innocence while giving nonviolent offenders with minimal criminal histories a better chance to become productive members of society,” Grassley said. “This bill strikes the right balance of improving public safety and ensuring fairness in the criminal justice system.”
Gubernatorial field loses 1
The large field of candidates for Iowa governor is one lighter.
Steven Ray, a Republican, announced recently he has dropped out of the race.
Ray is a Boone councilman and former communications officer with the Iowa State Patrol.
He and former Cedar Rapids mayor Ron Corbett had joined Gov. Kim Reynolds in the Republican primary field.
“I am first and foremost a realist, and it is clear the Republican support and money remains firmly behind the newly incumbent governor,” Ray said in a statement announcing his withdrawal from the race.
In addition to Reynolds and Corbett, seven Democratic candidates remain in the race.
Iowa House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, last week was named chairwoman of a national group that helps elect Republicans to state legislatures.
Upmeyer was named chairwoman of the Republican Legislative Campaign Committee, a caucus of the Republican State Leadership Committee.
“Over the past decade Republicans have dominated in state legislatures, flipping over 1,000 state legislative districts, and I’m proud to be able to help continue this success,” Upmeyer said in a news release. “With Republican majorities in 67 legislatures, the (campaign committee) will have a lot of territory to defend in 2018, but I’m confident with the right message and resources we can maintain and grow these majorities.”
The committee’s co-vice chairmen are Kentucky House Majority Floor Leader Jonathan Shell and North Carolina Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger.