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The Art of a Deal on Criminal Justice Reform

Can Congress Send a Bill to Trump’s Desk?

Inmates exercise outdoors at the Midwest Joint Regional Correctional Facility, at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, May 2017. Nick Oxford / REUTERS

When Donald Trump ascended to the White House, many criminal justice reform advocates lost all hope that bipartisan federal sentencing and prison reform legislation would ever make it to a floor vote in either chamber of the U.S. Congress, let alone to the president’s desk. After all, then candidate Trump made law and order a major theme of his campaign, and as president he appointed Republican Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the Hill’s most vocal opponent of sentencing reform, to the country’s top law enforcement post. But in one of the Beltway’s most interesting plot twists, historic criminal justice reform legislation now finds itself atop Trump’s policy agenda, and one floor vote away from his signature.

Some of us saw it coming. As I argued in the March/April 2017 issue of Foreign Affairs, embracing criminal justice reform would not contradict but would “help realize

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