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Trump throws support behind criminal justice reform bill

Last Updated Nov 14, 2018 5:29 PM EST

President Trump officially threw his support behind a criminal justice reform bill at the White House Wednesday afternoon, giving the legislation the push it might need to overcome a stall in the Senate.

"Working together with my administration over the last two years, these members have reached a bipartisan agreement. Did I hear the word bipartisan? Did I hear, did I hear that word? That's a nice word, bipartisan agreement, on prison reform legislation known as the First Step," Mr. Trump said Wednesday. "And that's what it is, it's a first step, but it's a very big first step. Today I'm thrilled to announce my support for this bipartisan bill that will make our communities safer and give former inmates a second chance at life after they have served their time, so important."

"It's the right thing to do. It's the right thing to do," Mr. Trump concluded, without taking questions from reporters in the room on the bill or pressing administration staffing matters.

The First Step Act, which has already passed the House, would constitute what would be a major overhaul of the criminal justice system. Trump son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, who was in the Roosevelt Room on Wednesday, has been working with senators and private sector stakeholders to make improvements to the country's prison and sentencing policies. Mr. Trump personally thanked Kushner, senators and law enforcement officials in the room.

Mr. Trump — despite his tough law-and-order rhetoric — has expressed some openness to making changes to the system. When Jeff Sessions was still his attorney general, Mr. Trump said he'd overrule Sessions — a known critic of sentencing reform — if the attorney general tried to thwart him on criminal justice reform efforts. Criminal justice reform may be one of the few things the Senate can pass in the lame duck session ahead of January, when Democrats gain control of the House.

Meanwhile, the White House faces a slew of other controversies. Mr. Trump told the Daily Caller Wednesday he will announce a decision about the fate of Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen "shortly." His pick for acting attorney general, Matt Whitaker, faces scrutiny over his appointment and relationship to special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. And first lady Melania Trump's office has called for the ouster of deputy national security adviser Mira Ricardel in a public statement.