WASHINGTON — Jared Kushner, son-in-law and senior adviser to President Donald Trump, has been dispatched by the White House to discuss criminal justice reform issues with key senators, BuzzFeed News has learned. Kushner met with Sens. Chuck Grassley and Dick Durbin on Capitol Hill Thursday.
Kushner was spotted entering Grassley's office on Thursday morning. An aide familiar with the meeting confirmed that Kushner is speaking with the senators about the reform legislation, which stalled last Congress despite early optimism that it could pass. Grassley, chair of the judiciary committee, and Durbin, the Democratic whip, have said they plan to eventually revive the issue with a similar bill this Congress.
Sen. Mike Lee, another vocal advocate for criminal justice reform, entered Grassley's office a few minutes after Kushner. The Utah senator's office confirmed that he was also meeting with Kushner and Grassley.
Kushner and Lee refused to comment as they exited the meeting. Grassley said he didn't want to comment on the substance of a private meeting. He later confirmed to reporters on Capitol Hill that the meeting was about criminal justice reform, and said he will "know in three weeks" whether the White House is interested in the legislation.
The White House did not immediately return a request for comment.
The legislation from last Congress aimed to address mass incarceration in the US, as well as the cost to taxpayers, by reducing mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent offenders and lowering recidivism rates through new programs designed to help ex-offenders reintegrate into society.
Thursday's meeting with a top White House official — and the fact that the administration has assigned someone to the issue — suggests that, despite early concerns from some advocates, criminal justice reform could see light under the new administration.
The 36-year-old Kushner has already been tasked with a heavy portfolio, though, with responsibilities ranging from bringing peace to the Middle East to overhauling the way the government operates, so it's unclear how much time he'll be able to devote to criminal justice reform.
Earlier this week, Grassley told BuzzFeed News that he has been talking to the White House about the legislation, and that senators were in the process of "seeing where the problems are with the new membership of the Senate and with the White House."
Grassley wouldn't identify specific areas of concern, but said the current bill has "got to have some changes" before it can pass.
Question have lingered about whether the legislation, if reintroduced, would meet the same fate as in the two previous Congresses. Last year, the bill stalled in the Senate. Although it made it through Grassley's committee, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell never brought it up for a vote in the full Senate.
And enthusiasm for the bill dampened after Trump's election given his campaign promise to "bring back law and order" — though he has not detailed what that will mean in terms of the criminal justice system — and his decision to pick Jeff Sessions, one of the Senate's staunchest opponents of reform, to head the Department of Justice.
But some members argue that with the campaign behind them, it will actually be easier to pass the bill. Grassley told BuzzFeed News in early January that the legislation could pass now “because the election’s over."
“I wouldn’t say there’s not going to be any problems because you’re starting over again,” Grassley said. “But ... the election had more to do with it than anything else.”
On the House side, Speaker Paul Ryan has also vowed to make passing sentencing reform a priority. And McConnell hasn't ruled it out for this Congress.
With a file from Paul McLeod.
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Emma Loop is a politics reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC. PGP fingerprint: 4A39 DD99 953C 6CAF D68C 85CD C380 AB23 859B 0611.
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