tv Senators on Passage of First Step Act CSPAN December 20, 2018 9:34am-10:19am EST
c-span was created as public service by america's cable television companies. and today we continue to bring you unfiltered coverage of congress, the white house, the supreme court, and public policy events in washington, d.c. in tuesday the senate passed a criminal justice reform bill that reduces mandatory minimum sentences the bill has support from the president and is expected to pass in the house.
i'm going to open and without introducing them separately, senator durbin is going to speak. probably one person would be up here but he's returning to washington, d.c., it would be senator grahm. none of us expected an 87-12 vote, but we did expect 75-80. so the overwhelming passage of this legislation, i think,
bill. probably because they read the legislation one by one. we were able to pick up cosponsors from 12 to i believe, 18 republicans and 18 democrats. we're gradually able to overcome the main obstacle to the bill, which was the reluctance of the leader to bring it up. but we accomplished that goal by more than meeting his expectations that it would take at least 60 votes to even consider bringing it up. we showed we had many more votes than that. finally, i'll just sum it up this way. when you can get an overwhelming majority of the united states senate, when you can preconference with the house and we visited with the house leaders on this point two or three weeks ago and they feel
that they can get through their short term process of getting a bill through by a two-thirds margin and having the president on board so he'll sign it. plus, also, you don't of the to forget the broad support we had for outside interest groups all the way through people that you consider very liberal. i don't know whether the aclu considers themselves liberal but at least they're on that end of the spectrum. over here you have people like the american conservative union and everything in between. these people that are up here with me help bring that together. so all i can say to senator durbin and senator lee, thank you for awakening me to the necessity of this legislation and having me study the problems
that you were pioneers of bringing forth. and to senator booker and senator tim scott, thank you for joining us, as well. and making this the success it is. >> thank you, chuck grassley. it's an honor to be here today and to recount the struggle that brought us to the historic vote last night in the united states senate. as a result we thought it would scare america straight in terms of the danger of this drug and it backfired. it turned out we had more drugs
on the street. we had a lower price for the drugs out there because of the supply and we started filling up our jails with people who were arrested for drug offenses. a 700% increase in our jail population because of this new level of our war on drugs. i voted for it. ten years ago i tried to change it. to bring it from 1-1. we still had existing in the law this mandatory man mum sentencing. and some of the sentencing guidelines that created just incredibly impossible to explanning situations where people were put away for years
if not for they're lives. we came together and put in a bill and looked pretty good. we had one serious problem. we didn't have the spob support of chuck grassley. and chuck grassley is going to be senate judiciary committee chairman. we needed chuck on our side. i was put on the committee with chuck grassley as my chairman. and i thought to myself, so let me get this straight. i have an iowa corn farmer as the chairman of this judiciary subcommittee and i'm a big shot illinois lawyer. no contest, right. well, pretty soon i realized after he picked my pocket and
cleaned my clock and left me in the dust of his john deere tractor to take this man very seriously when it came to issues in the judiciary committee. so mike leigh and i set out to enlist him as our partner in the effort. after a year he came around. we put our team together and started moving forward and stopped on the floor of the senate by mitch mcconnell. either because of memories or the fact that the caucus was split over the issue. he wouldn't touch it. we were stuck. then came the election of donald trump. he brought his son-in-law to us, jared kushner has passion for prison reform because of a family experience. he wasted no time getting involved and engaged in the effort. we worked with him throughout this endeavor. this is nothing short of historic vote that really
changes our outlook on our system of justice for the first time in decades. it's a dramatic change. i think it reflects the fact that we realize that getting tough on the war on drugs isn't enough. we have to use our brains in terms of interdicting those who supply drugs to our country. u nose in prison because of this, many of them languish for decades in prison for a drug offense that doesn't involve violence or firearms. these are people who deserve a second chance, if they're willing to work for it. we put those two kons accepts together. the brand new approach to dealing with narcotics in this country and a new approach, when it came to dealing with prisoners 0 in our country. it's a breakthrough. the fact we have 87 votes.
tim scott, thank you for joining us on the republican side. you're a valuable ally. we're not finished. it's entitled the first step. what is the second step? the second step is to learn from this experience and to find a way to reduce incarceration while still reducing the crime rate in america. states are proving to us this can happen. now it's time for us at the federal level to do just the same. >> i remembered glenn bias and watching him play for the university of maryland and thinking at the time this is someone we'll see playing basketball for many years. he had a promising career ahead of him in the nba. and i remember when his life was taken short tragically how
disappointed i was. i thought about the basketball games i wouldn't get to see him play in for many years to come. congress reacted to that and other incidents and did so understandably but over the course of time, we realized that congress was taking people's lives away in a different way. sometimes warehousing human beings for decades at a time. taking them away from their families and faith and neighborhoods. little by little we've seen that as the u.s. bureau of prisons has come to consume what is now approaching one-third of all of the department of justice revenue. all the funds going to that department that we rely on to make the american people safe. that is not only coming at a great economic cost of diverting those costs away from other things that could help make the american people safer.
there's a much greater cost, the human cost, that comes as people's sons, fathers, brothers, uncles, nephews are taken away. sometimes for years. sometimes for decades at a time. i've told the story many times when i was a federal prosecutor i became aware of a young man in utah who was sentenced for selling three dime bags of marijuana to what turned out to be a confidential informant. he, in his mid 20s and father of two young children at at time had a gun on his person. he was charged in federal district court and he received sentence enhancements based on the fact that he was selling pot while carrying a firearm. even though he didn't brandish it or discharge it in connection with the offense. mr. angelo received an enhancement for five years for that first conviction. for the second conviction, count two of a single indictment, he received another enhancement of 25 years to run consecutively to
the first five year enhancement. for the third count of the same indictment, he received another 25 year enhancement making for a minimum mandatory sentence for 55 years. a judge not a softy on crime took the unheard of step of issuing an opinion disagreeing with the sentence he was about to impose. there are rapists, he said, there are murders, there are hijackers, terrorists who don't get this much time and yet i, as a federal district judge have to send to send this man away for 55 years. there's nothing i can do about it. only congress can fix this problem. those words have haunted me ever since then. especially since i was elected to the united states senate in 2010 and arrived here in 2011. only congress can fix the
problem. i found an ally in dick durbin. we knew it would be an uphill climb. we knew it would be difficult. we knew we can encounter a lot of resistance. he has the answers to life's difficult questions. i felt like i knew him but it was the first time i met him. he introduced himself to me. he said i'm cory booker from new jersey. i would like to work with you on criminal justice reform. i will never forget how many hours senator durbin and i got to spend in senator durbin's office with chairman grassley.
it became common usage in our l group. this was a discussion that probably would have bored most americans and lawmakers to tears. we got into the nitty gritty details and although it was a difficult negotiation session, what we came out with in the end was a good bill. in many ways, it was made better by the fact that we had reached out to someone who initially didn't share our view at all. this is a bill that i'm extremely proud to have been a part of. this may be my proudest moment in eight years of the united states senate. never in a million years could i have dreamed, though i hoped and expected we could have passed this, i don't think i thought we would get 87 votes in the united states senate. i'm grateful to each of you working with me and each of your
staffs, the many groups from across the political spectrum. i'm grateful to president trump for his open, honest, aggressive advocacy for this. jared kushner and to all those who have helped us with this effort. senator booker. >> i just want to start with my deep sense of gratitude as well first to chuck grassley. this as we said before, would not have happened if it wasn't for the willingness of chuck grassley to listen and learn and work with us. he is the chairman of the judiciary committee and he is the person in my opinion made this possible, taking it from being impossible to possible. i'm deeply grateful to you, sir. i forced him to hug me last night. i promise i won't make you suffer that too much more. >> not a mid western. >> i want to thank mike lee.
i came to the united states senate, one of the driving purposes of my life was to make a difference in criminal justice reform and i still remember on a subway car as to when i didn't even know my way around the capitol, i saw him and knew about his bill with senator durbin and asked to work with him. from that time all the way until last night he has been an honorable, decent, in every way a person of integrity. when he gives you his word he follows through it on it. like dick durbin said he was the fullback on the goal line stand pushing this through and navigating. i want to thank lindsey graham because, you know, i've had some of my funniest moments where he assured me this would get done, took a little longer than he assured me, but the moment i want to just thank him for, i'm not sure if he remembers this, he and i were on the phone with jared kushner at the white house and i was trying to force into this one last provision and i -- this was right after the
kavanaugh hearings and lindsey graham was literally putting his foot down standing up for me and the provision and fighting to get it in the bill. it would not be in the bill if it wasn't for lindsey. he's ban friend and i want to thank him for that. i want to thank tim scott who has been present through criminal justice reform efforts and my partner on a lot of meaningful things that will help people. finally, my thank yous, not only to the activists, not only to the outside groups, but i just really want to take a special moment to tell you what dick durbin means to me. he is a remarkable human being. i've got to see him in a lot of very personal moments where no cameras are around and watch how he stands up for the most vulnerable in this country, whether it's dreamers or people in prison that most people have forgotten about, he has been a tireless champion. when i got to the united states senate, i will never forget his willingness to embrace me and allow me to be his sidekick of
sorts through this whole time, elevating me, giving me as an opportunity as a junior freshman senator i probably shouldn't have. he is my champion and he is -- but for him we would not be celebrating this day. i want to hank hthank him for t opportunities he's given me to have some of my most meaningful experiences of the united states senate. i want to give one example of why this is important and say one more thing and give up the microphone. there is a provision in the bill that dick durbin already described called the fair sentencing act making it retroactive. this is a colossal injustice, but it is an exhibit to the many injustices this bill works to address. i want to drill down on it for a moment because the absurdity of someone on the second of october 2010 getting one sentence that's 100 to one and then literally someone sentenced the next day
got a sentence dramatically less, that that's the america we lived in -- live in until this bill becomes a law. i mean it is stunning that this kind of injustice goes on in our country there are people who have watched folks go in and out of prison for doing the same thing or worse than they did, it's outrageous. the reason why i pull this out to drill down on is just to make the point, our criminal justice system feeds upon the most vulnerable in this country, the poor, the mentally ill, the addicted, and disproportionately black and brown people. so when you correct an injustice in general, and this bill addresses people from all background, all races, but when you correct an injustice in a bias system it helps marginalize people. 96% of the people helped by that are black and latino. this was something that was done that had a racial impact that is
unacceptable. and that provision that dick and others fought to get in this bill is going to help over 2,000 americans have pathways to liberation that deserved it. i want to finish saying thank you to everybody but the title of this bill is very, very important to me. it is called the first step in a very long journey. we should celebrate, we should give gratitude to everyone including as dick said the white house, and we know this wouldn't even have a shot at this if it wasn't for the white house. i want to let you know we live in a country where these outrageous injustices are going on. i've had a conversation with lindsey from the beginning. republicans and democrats agree you should not go to prison based upon how much money you had. there are people in prison right now not because of guilt or innocence but because they're poor and they wouldn't be there if they had the resources. that's wrong in this country. we should not have in our nation
the largest mental health care facility this is this country be our prisons and jails where people's mental illnesses are compounded and aggravated and left back on the streets worse off than before and perhaps, perhaps even more dangerous. we shouldn't have a system that grinds in people with addictions and this is another thing this bill works to address, but doesn't treat those addictions. lots of injustices we need to address. this is a first step in a long journey, and the bipartisan commitment including the white house said they're committed to continuing the work. let's celebrate the work must continue and i want to bring forward my dear friend, who has an equally great haircut, tim scott. >> good morning to everyone. certainly i am as appreciative as the other colleagues about the significant progress we've made through this first step. i want to thank each and every one, but specifically the farmer who became the judiciary chairman, for your hard work and
dedication on this issue and certainly both dick durbin and mike lee, lindsey and cory have spent a lot of time on this issue. i've spent four or five years on this issue. i'm the newbie at the table. economy to this issue from a different perspective. my thought first on criminal justice reform, because without president donald trump, this would not be happening, no question about that. the only way it to get the republicans to the table to start the conversation was because of the successful and effective approach that president trump took. that is without question. i started the conversation because i wanted to make sure that the communities that the returned citizen is going to is going to be a safer place. for me this is not simply a criminal justice reform bill, this is a community justice reform bill. as a kid growing up in a single parent household, mired in poverty, i recall the day that i
came home from school when my house was broken into. from my perspective, what i hoped to accomplish with this legislation is to curb the number of folks who go home and commit a crime and come back to jail. that makes our communities safer. if today the number is 76% of the time, within a five-year period of time, the person who gets out comes back to jail, that means that they've gone home and committed a crime. if we can do what south carolina has done, which is to take the number from 76% significantly lower, which has led to seven state prisons being closed and community safety going up, it has occurred because we have discovered the secret recipe of reducing recidivism which falls into three basic charges. one is around workforce development, having the skills
necessary to be employable when you go home. number two is recognizing and dealing with the emotional and mental issues and conditions that are pervasive throughout our criminal justice system and the final piece is the importance of education. i've spent some time visiting state prisons in south carolina and the level of functional i illiteracy in jail must be around 60 to 70%. if we can focus on the benefits and the advantages for the community, this bill will have been worth it. >> next we'll hear from the senior senator, lindsey graham. >> all right. don't you worry. this is getting deep so i will lighten it up. cory and dick are great, but they are wrong about most things. but not this. i just got back from afghanistan.
the senate is slow except when i need it to slow down a little bit. i'm sorry i couldn't get back for the vote we may have a breakthrough in afghanistan. only god knows about reconciliation. they're watching what's possible, all of us saying great things about each other from different parties, maybe it will take on in afghanistan. i would have been 88 gladly. the bottom line, the cause is just and that means you got a 50/50 chance of getting anything done. jared kushner was mentioned a couple times. without jared's tenacity and his team putting together a coaliti coalition i've never seen from conservative liberals, this would have never happened. i hope he is enjoying the moment because he earned it. getting president trump on board was the game changer. he came out openly for it and it broke the senate. as to mike and dick, you have to
be pleased. you started this journey a long time ago. it is an unusual political coalition and had a lot of power to it and you're not going to get anything through the judiciary committee without the chairman and senator grassley i think listened intently and his leadership made it possible and the committee and we got a good vote. mitch is the majority leader and has to make decisions about competing interests, and i want to thank him for making this happen. when the president came out for it, it gave him cover. mitch was sort of on the fence as to whether or not to support the bill. he came our way. i'm just really pleased. cory, the biggest contribution is to make sure that the perfect is not the enemy of the good. there were a lot of people on the left who wanted to take this down because you could get a better deal next year.
you would not have gotten a better deal next year. this wouldn't have happened. i think he helped dick to keep the coalition together because we had to do some giving to get the president and others on board, and to the critics of the bill, you say that somebody under this bill will get out and do something bad. that's probably true. but what i hope you will realize is that most people can get out under this bill a bit early are going to contribute mightily. we're going to lower the cost of our prison system, we're going to give people earned second chances. to those who say you should never let them out, that ain't working. every category you're qualified for good time. if you just behave yourself in jail, no matter the offense, you can get out early. in most cases, just keep the jail from blowing up.
all we did was create another way to get out early if you're a nonviolent offender and you're low risk. you have to invest in a skill set to stay out. to the critics who are waiting for an example of somebody getting out who does something bad, what's your answer to the recidivism rate that tim described? nothing. here's the biggest effect of this bill. people are going to get out of jail and they're far less likely to go back because they can get out earlier if they work hard and invest in the skill set instead. it only affects 10% of the american prison population at the federal level. i hope states are watching and governors are watching and use this as a model. finally, as to what mike said, i'm a pretty hard -- on most criminal justice things, but we have a system that's just gotten to be bureaucratic. there's no reason for the gentleman described by mike to go to jail for 55 years.
now that doesn't make anybody in america safer. we're giving judges a chance to avoid what the judge was so painfully asked to do, give a sentence not consistent with the crime in front of him. that's all we're doing. nonviolent offenses at the federal level, we're going to give judges a chance not to put somebody in jail for 50 or 60 years that doesn't need to go. we're going to make sure that if you do get out of jail under this bill, you have a better chance of not going back. that's a huge accomplishment for the country and i hope this moment here where we all feel good about each other, that maybe that's a sign that 2019 might be okay. thank you. >> we've bothered you for a half hour. i hope there aren't very many
questions. we'll take a few. go ahead. by the way, the reason i said we would take a few, we do have a vote at 11:30. go ahead. >> so you talked about a lot of the high points getting to this point. when did you think that it was over, that you would not get here? when was the low point? >> i think we thought it was over -- a lot of our surprise it was put on the agenda by the leader. that was the key point, i believe. >> the leader, did you -- had you hoped that leader would have been more supportive early on? did you not think -- >> i think you've heard my colleagues. he's got a terribly big job. i think he wants to avoid as much breaking up of the caucus as he can.
i don't know for a fact, but i think as we got well over 30 people that said they would vote for the bill, that's more than half of the caucus. i think that probably impacted him. i think the president's tweets and phone calls that the president made, made a difference. maybe maybe there was some other factor i don't know about, but what i know about it has to be some of those things. >> the marijuana amendment wasn't allowed to be voted on. tens of thousands of people are in prison for nonviolent marijuana related to offenses. any plans to work on that next, especially you mr. booker? >> i think -- >> what are your thoughts? >> we won't have time to work on it as me chairman of the committee, and i don't know whether lindsey graham wants to address that. >> let me say this, if i'm chairman, i'm asking for your votes, thanks for the nice letter, it is first step. let's look at everything.
i'm going to look at fentanyl. i have a different view of fentanyl. i want to make it so hard to deal in fentanyl you won't want to do it because you are literally killing people with a little bit of a drop. that's different than marijuana. the committee will be in business to make good, common sense decisions. >> i plan on sending some brownies to his office to celebrate his new chairmanship. >> senator graham, can i get your reaction to -- >> can you say that question until we get all the questions on the bill? >> yeah. >> i'll talk to you. >> i -- i assume that the questions are over? i don't see hands up. thank you all very much. >> senator graham, you said you had to give in order to get this through. could you just talk a little bit about the provisions you had to adjust to get this bill passed? >> i don't think that that's what we want to focus on right now. there's a lot of massaging and horse trading back and forth.
>> what you're going to go for next year. >> look at the bills that have been already bipartisan cosponsored by the people up here. there's a lot of things we worked together on. the bill from the house was dead on arrival for me and senator durbin because it didn't have sentencing on it. and i'm sorry, and the chairman. a lot of us were like -- and then it opened it up to allow a lot of work that we had done in the previous congress to be included in this bill. not all provisions were. a lot of things got through. i'm just very happy that we were all working as a team. i think the summit meeting we had in senator grassley's office with jared kushner towards the end we agree we're all on the same team and do a little massaging, not big things were jettisoned but a lot of massaging. >> i've spoken to paul ryan. he is committed to this bill and i hope he will have a procedural opportunity to get it done even today or tomorrow. we're looking forward to a positive outcome in the house. >> in response to your question, it should be mentioned, there
were probably a thousand deaths. this bill died a thousand deaths in the last few months alone. even though the ultimate vote was overwhelming and supportive, there were a thousand times when we had to rescue it from the fire. that's what makes it gratifying. thank you. homeland security secretary kirstjen nielsen will be testifying this morning. this should start in just a moment. live coverage here on c-span 3.