House Speaker Paul Ryan is facing a major obstacle in his quest to pass criminal justice reform: unenthused House Republicans still skittish about looking soft on crime, Politico reports. The Wisconsin Republican for weeks has repeated his desire to pass a bipartisan package that would include allowing well-behaved nonviolent prisoners to be eligible for early release and easing some drug-related sentencing requirements. The odds are decidedly long. With Donald Trump advocating controversial policies like systematic “stop and frisk,” and the protests in Charlotte against police-involved shootings causing racial tensions to flare, Ryan’s colleagues are not eager to vote on the matter. An internal GOP leadership survey last week taking House Republicans’ temperature on the issue showed that most members were lukewarm at best.
The politics of criminal justice reform have soured for conservative supporters. Trump has warned repeatedly of dangerous, crime-ridden cities. Though crime rates are still low by recent historical standards, it’s enough to make law-and-order Republican lawmakers nervous. Some Republican lawmakers worry that law enforcement could come out against the pitch, though many national police groups haven’t taken a position. Even if Ryan managed to get a bill through the House, the Senate and its 60-vote threshold could stop it in its tracks. Hawkish Republicans, including Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Jeff Sessions of Alabama, have been sounding the alarm against criminal justice reform. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has shied from the matter because it divides his conference. Democrats by and large support the reform proposals. While he wasn’t able to pass the criminal justice package this month as he originally hoped, Ryan is now eyeing the lame-duck session, by which time tensions might have eased.