Just a couple of weeks ago, President Obama put criminal-injustice issues up front and center in ways that were hard to miss.
On July 13, he commuted the sentences of dozens of non-violent drug offenders, some of whom were serving life sentences. On July 14, the president delivered a striking address at the NAACP's annual convention on the need for criminal-injustice reform. And on July 16, Obama became the first sitting president to personally visit a federal prison, even meeting with a group of non-violent convicts.
And in response, Republicans said ... very little. In an era in which Obama can barely wake up in the morning without GOP condemnations, Republicans -- on Capitol Hill, on the presidential campaign trail, in conservative media -- offered nothing in the way of presidential criticisms.
It wasn't long ago that any Democratic talk about criminal-injustice reforms would be met with immediate, knee-jerk talking points about "soft-on-crime" liberals who want to "coddle" criminals. Last month, however, as Rachel noted on the show, even House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said he "absolutely" supports bipartisan reforms.
"We've got a lot of people in prison, frankly, that don't really in my view need to be there," the Republican leader told reporters, pleasantly surprising reform proponents. "It's expensive to house. Some of these people are in there for what I'll call flimsy reasons."
The New York Times reported yesterday that the winds of change have shifted in a way that makes real progress possible for the first time in at least a generation.
...Congress seems poised to revise four decades of federal policy that greatly expanded the number of Americans -- to roughly 750 per 100,000 -- now incarcerated, by far the highest of any Western nation.
Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee who has long resisted changes to federal sentencing laws, said he expected to have a bipartisan bill ready before the August recess.
The details of Grassley's bill are not yet available, but the fact that the effort is moving forward at all is an amazing development.