Senate Republican Rift Over Sentencing Reform Could Kill It

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Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), who’s already made waves railing against the Iran nuclear deal and government surveillance programs, is leading a rebellion against a bipartisan effort to overhaul the criminal justice system. He hopes to torpedo one of the only pieces of major legislation that could pass in President Obama’s final year, Politico reports. GOP tensions over a bill that would effectively loosen some mandatory minimum sentences spilled over during a party lunch last week, when Cotton lobbied his colleagues heavily against the legislation. “It would be very dangerous and unwise to proceed with the Senate Judiciary bill, which would lead to the release of thousands of violent felons,” Cotton told Politico. “I don’t think any Republicans want legislation that is going to let out violent felons, which this bill would do.”

Other Senate Republicans, including Jim Risch of Idaho and David Perdue of Georgia, also registered strong opposition during the lunch, even as Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) vigorously defended the bill, which he helped negotiate. Risch stressed this message, according to one Republican source: Shouldn’t the GOP be a party of law and order? The deepening Republican split over reforming key elements of the criminal justice system — an effort years in the making that has been powered by an influential right-left coalition — may imperil whether Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will take up the measure later in this election year. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) denies that violent criminals could be freed under the sentencing reform bill.

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