The Republican Party, as well as a spokesman for President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign, are trying to re-write history when it comes to how criminal justice reform came to become law.
The bipartisan law, dubbed the First Step Act, was signed by Trump in December 2018, after it passed with bipartisan support in Congress. The law increases credits for “good time” served behind bars, reduces mandatory minimum sentences for drug-related crimes, bans some prison practices (including shackling of pregnant women), and expands rehabilitation opportunities for former offenders.
The law had a broad range of support from liberal and conservative politicians. But the Republican Party’s official Twitter account seemed to make it all about Trump, sharing video from a Fox News interview with Tim Murtaugh, the president’s re-election campaign communications director.
“A lot of candidates running for office and a lot of politicians talk about doing something about criminal justice reform but really it took President Trump to do something about it,” Murtaugh said in the interview.
“A lot of candidates running for office and a lot of politicians talk about doing something about criminal justice reform but really it took President @realDonaldTrump to do something about it.” –@TimMurtaugh pic.twitter.com/MzTp3zQmY6
— GOP (@GOP) February 3, 2020
But that’s not really what happened.
Bipartisan support for criminal justice reform began well-before Trump, when former President Barack Obama was in office. It even seemed that a bill could pass Congress for a time, and end up on Obama’s desk for his signature — until partisan Republicans, led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, blocked the bill in the Senate, the New York Times reported.
McConnell and other Republicans wanted to block the bill from passage because, at the time, Trump was campaigning as a “tough on crime” candidate. They also didn’t want to give Obama a political win, according to the Times.
“It is one of the things that makes this a frustrating place to work,” Republican Sen. John Cornyn said at the time.
Murtaugh’s comments suggesting that Trump was responsible for passage of the criminal justice reform bill into law in 2018 disregards the fact that the bill was ready to be passed two years earlier. Indeed, one could make a reasonable argument that it was because of Trump, and his allies in Congress at the time, that the law was delayed for an additional two years.