Both Senator Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst voted for a criminal justice reform bill that cleared the U.S. Senate on December 18 by a resounding 87 votes to 12 (roll call). Iowa’s senators were also part of the bipartisan majority that rejected three Republican amendments, described by one advocacy group as poison pills “aimed at gutting the substance and intent of the bill.”
Grassley wasn’t an early advocate of criminal justice reform, especially sentencing reform. As recently as March 2015, he slammed what he called the “leniency industrial complex,” which favored reducing long mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenses. But he came around about three years ago and helped build Republican support for the current bill, commonly known as the First Step Act.
In one of his final acts as Senate Judiciary Committee chair, Grassley pushed Majority Leader Mitch McConnell publicly and privately to bring the legislation to the Senate floor. After yesterday’s votes, New York Times photographer Sarah Silbiger captured images of Grassley celebrating with Democratic Senator Cory Booker, who has helped lead the charge on this issue.