So far all the talk about bipartisan work in Congress on criminal justice reform has been just that…talk. One of the big obstacles to any progress has been the fact that Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is the chair of the Judiciary Committee. Not only is Grassley one of the old-timers who supports tough sentences, mandatory minimums and continuation of the war on drugs, he comes from one of the few states that has shown almost no interest in this issue.
But according to Evan McMorris-Santoro, all that is finally starting to change.
Grassley’s Judiciary Committee aides have been holding regular, closed-door meetings with Democratic staff for the committee working on legislation that could add the Republican’s name to those calling for changes to federal mandatory-minimum sentencing guidelines, BuzzFeed News has learned.
“Chairman Grassley’s staff has been working with other offices on a possible criminal justice bill that encompasses a range of issues,” Beth Levine, spokesperson for the judiciary committee’s Republican members, told BuzzFeed News in an email. “Provisions of the Cornyn bill are a part of that discussion as well as front-end solutions such as safety valves and reductions in mandatory minimums in certain situations.”…
…the fact that Grassley is even talking about talking about reducing some mandatory minimums is a big shift, advocates say. The White House, libertarians, and progressives now all believe Grassley could make a deal, ending his uniform opposition to reductions in drug sentences.
The moves Grassley is signaling that he is willing to make would be small and inadequate. But the fact that he is even open to small changes shows how far these bipartisan efforts have come over the last couple of years.
One of the more interesting sub-texts to this is that Grassley seems to want to distance his own efforts on reform from those proposed by his Republican colleague Sen. Rand Paul.
Grassley has continued to distance himself from the more ardent supporters of ending the War on Drugs, while also taking pains not to reject the critics of mandatory-minimum sentences completely.
“I have different views than [Sen. Rand] Paul and those guys,” Grassley told Politico in April. “They’d make you believe [people are incarcerated] for smoking one pot [sic] or one ‘roach.’ … But they’re not; they’re in for a lifetime of violent crime.”
“But I know there needs to be reform,” Grassley said. “We need this.”
It appears that the divisions on getting something done are fueled by intra-party Republican politics as much as they are by not wanting to work with the Democrats who support reform. Perhaps Grassley just doesn’t want Sen. Paul’s presidential campaign getting credit for bipartisan progress on this one.