MSNBC’s Chris Hayes sat down for an interview with Sen. Rand Paul yesterday and asked him about his efforts on criminal justice reform. Paul co-sponsored a bill with Democratic Sen. Cory Booker reforming sentencing and incarceration practices; many elements of that bill were included in the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, which passed by a bipartisan 15-5 vote out of committee and stands as the best hope for advocates of reform to get something to the president’s desk.
Hayes noted that for all of the extreme gaps between congressional Democrats and Republicans, “one of the places that the gap is narrowest is on criminal justice reform so it does seem there’s some bipartisan [possibilities] out there.” But a split has emerged with the Republican party on the issue, with Sen. Tom Cotton leading the charge to block reforms. “He’s saying we’re the party of law and order and really kind of channeling a kind of politics about law and order that was really the mainstream of both parties for a very long time, particularly the Republican party,” Hayes said. “Does that still have teeth?”
I think he’s making a mistake here because I think the country is moving in the other direction. A lot of us believe in second chances. When I saw Peyton Manning giving the ball to Demaryius Thomas and say this is for your mom, I have a great deal of sympathy for his mom. She’d been in jail for 15 years for a non-violent crime. That doesn’t mean what she doing was correct or right, but the thing but the thing is fifteen years is a long time for a non-violent crime. His grandmother is in jail for two life sentences, forty years a piece, the minimum she can get out is forty years — for dealing drugs and yet you can shoot somebody in Kentucky and be eligible for parole in twelve years.”
Hayes asked whether this message of compassion would play to Paul’s Republican base. Paul said that he ended each stump speech with the story of Kalief Browder. “It’s a very emotional story and I think it should unite all of us to say this shouldn’t happen anymore,” Paul said. “In the bill I have with Cory Booker, it gets rid of solitary confinement for juveniles.” [Obama announced just after the interview that he will ban solitary confinement for juveniles in federal prison by executive action.]
As Cotton positions himself as the True Conservative, it will be interesting to watch the backlash among the party’s libertarian wing on Cotton’s hawkish warmongering, enthusiasm for security-state snooping, and demagoguing on criminal justice reform. For example, here’s a tweet from a writer from the libertarian Reason magazine:
Speaking of demagogues claiming to be the True Conservative, Paul also attacked Sen. Ted Cruz and addressed his preternatural unlikeability. “People see Ted Cruz and worry about authenticity,” Paul said, with the perception that he is demagoguing and making himself out to be a hero. Cruz has a pattern of “using something not true to elevate yourself,” Paul said. Paul added that “I’m as hardcore as anyone,” but that Cruz’s habit of name calling “makes it very personal” in a counter-productive way.