Fate of Bipartisan Proposals Unknown with Trump as President

By Erin Delmore

“We saw a wholesale takeover of the federal government by the Republican Party,” said Matthew Hale, associate professor of political science and public affairs at Seton Hall University.

Congress is heading back to work and Democrats are bracing for a new boss.

“One of the things about Donald Trump is that we really don’t know what he’s going to do,” Hale said.

It’s a prime opportunity for Republicans to make good on their promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act and the banking reforms imposed after the 2008 financial crisis. On the stump, Trump’s tendency: to tackle immigration, trade and tax reform. On the Hill, legislators left contemplating what’s achievable in the new world order.

“As much as we may be frustrated or fearful that we have a president now that during the campaign said horrific things, in my opinion, demeaning, degrading things about other Americans, we all need to give space in our heart for the opportunity to work together and work with this president for the betterment of our country,” Democratic U.S. Sen. Cory Booker said Thursday.

Booker will be in the minority for at least the next two years. Hanging in the balance: support for his bipartisan proposals like comprehensive criminal justice reform. Pending legislation would target high level drug traffickers and reduce minimum penalties for low level, non-violent offenders.

If Booker has bipartisan support for all these principles that he’s outlined, and all the reforms that he and his colleagues across the aisle want to make, why haven’t we seen a vote yet?

“So that’s what’s got me so angry right now, and so frustrated. If this bill was to go to the floor for a vote, it would receive 60, 70, 80 votes in the Senate. But right now Mitch McConnell is refusing to put it on the floor. Even when you have Chuck Grassley, if Chuck Grassley and I, Republican head of the Judiciary Committee, can come together and agree on common sense changes, it’s so frustrating to me that Mitch McConnell is not putting this on the floor,” Booker said Oct. 5.

I asked the senator about the chances of passing criminal justice reform under the specter of President-Elect Trump.

“Well I’m not sure, but I’m going to go down and fight for it because this should be an area of bipartisanship. We have a bipartisan bill, we know that actually it’s a bill that will save taxpayers’ dollars, it’ll elevate human achievement, elevate those folks who have paid their debt and are coming home,” Booker said.

“Donald Trump has given no indication that criminal justice reform is something that he wants to prioritize. There are those who have suggested that Mike Pence, the vice president, is effectively going to be CEO of the United States. And Donald Trump will be chairman of the board, in charge of making America great, but the details are really going to be left to Mike Pence. That’s one way of doing it. He might divvy up and allow people to sort of run. In which case, issues like criminal justice reform, really going to be dependent on somebody like Rudy Guiliani, the former New York mayor, who may well be become the next attorney general,” said Ben Dworkin, director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University. “That is, the issue areas will be left to the people in charge of those departments.”

Booker says the key to breaking through the gridlock is going step by step. New Jersey takes a big step come Jan. 1 when bail reform goes into effect.