U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, pledged Wednesday to fight for a criminal justice proposal that includes reducing certain mandatory prison sentences, and he raised the prospect of blocking a package of related reforms the White House and congressional Republicans are said to be interested in if he can't get an agreement.
Grassley and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., has been pushing for legislation that would make reforms to sentencing guidelines, as well as prison practices.
Late Tuesday, the White House expressed interest in proposals to reduce recidivism among offenders, but not changes to sentences. A White House official who wasn't identified said the sentencing reform piece "does not have a pathway forward to getting done," according to several news reports.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, also is said to be an obstacle to getting the legislation to the floor.
On a conference call with Iowa reporters Wednesday, Grassley disputed the idea his bill can't pass and said with Democrats and Republicans, there are at least 60 votes for his proposal.
The bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee two weeks ago on a 16-5 bi-partisan vote.
Grassley said people pushing for a narrower approach just want to get a bill passed.
"Well, if they take up prison reform, they’re going to have to have 60 votes to get prison reform up. And I’ll bet we’ve got, if all the Democrats go along with me, we can stop that from coming up until we get a deal to get a vote on my sentencing reform," Grassley said.
Grassley, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee and has been a key figure in getting the Trump administration's court picks through the confirmation process, said he planned to talk to Durbin first before deciding whether to take that route.
Two weeks ago, Grassley was angered when Attorney General Jeff Sessions criticized the bill.
Backers of the legislation say the changes to sentencing guidelines would only be for certain non-violent offenders. But Sessions said it would reduce sentences for "highly dangerous" criminals.
After that, Grassley responded on Twitter that it is Congress' job to write the laws and the attorney general's responsibility to enforce them.
On the conference call Wednesday, Grassley said the chances for his proposal, at the moment, aren't very good. But he said he isn't going to give up.
"This would be a bipartisan policy win for the administration. And it seems like a no-brainer to me." He said he hasn't spoken to President Trump about the proposal yet.