CNN’s Don Lemon tries to throw wet blanket on Trump’s prison reform legislation

It seemed difficult for CNN anchor Don Lemon to give President Donald Trump any credit on Tuesday for the historic criminal justice reform bill that was passed in the Senate – despite some of Lemon’s colleagues praising the president.

The First Step Act, which is short for the Formerly Incarcerated Reenter Society Transformed Safely Transitioning Every Person Act, marks the first major legislation to tackle the rising incarceration rate in decades. The bill, which had bipartisan support and the backing of the president, was overwhelming approved by the Senate in 87-12 vote. The legislation will now be sent to the House, where they are set to vote on Thursday.

During the nightly handoff, Lemon – an outspoken critic of President Trump -- acknowledged to CNN’s Chris Cuomo that there are “lots of good things” about the First Step Act, but stressed that we’re at the “ten yard line.”

Cuomo expressed more optimism, pointing to the “coalition” between President Trump, White House advisor Jared Kushner, and CNN commentator Van Jones is proof that “you can make the right thing happen if you try and if you use your power.”

“Imagine if this same experiment, this same paradigm was used more productively and more often by this president,” Cuomo said.

“Well, I wouldn’t count on that,” Lemon replied. “I’m just being honest. I mean history and reality has shown us way too often that I wouldn’t count on him always to do the right thing. Even if he does one right thing, it doesn’t mean that the next step will be right, but this is a good step.”

Van Jones appeared with Lemon, calling the Senate’s passing of the First Step Act a “Christmas miracle.”

“87 senators, both political parties came together to do something to try to begin to reduce the number of people behind bars for too long. And what this bill does is unbelievable,” Jones told Lemon before listing several benefits of the legislation. “The ‘New York Times’ calls this the ‘biggest breakthrough in criminal justice in a generation’ and it was brought about by ordinary people who came together and fought.”

Jones praised President Trump for “doing the right thing” on this legislation and how he “came harder” when critics doubted his intentions.

“Donald Trump has got to get the credit"

— CNN's Van Jones

“Donald Trump has got to get the credit,” Jones stressed.

“But he did have support of many Republicans. There were a few hard-liners like Tom Cotton and Mitch McConnell, but for the most part, he knew it was politically expedient,” Lemon said. “I’m not saying- he did the right thing, but he knew it was politically expedient.”

After reading President Trump’s tweets commemorating the First Step Act’s passing in the Senate, Lemon asked CNN pundit Symone Sanders if the president “deserves credit.”

“Look, I think there is no question that it was under the Trump administration that this First Step Act did in fact happen,” Sanders responded. “And there’s no question that we needed sentencing and prison reform that we are not there to comprehensive criminal justice reform. But as Van said, you know, you’ve got to have a first step to build a staircase to get to the second step.”

Later on, Lemon invited Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), who was also instrumental in the bill’s passing, and asked him what he tells people who are “skeptical” because “Trump is behind this bill.”

Jeffries responded by calling it an “important leadership moment” for progressives and conservatives alike in Congress and in the White House.

“And certainly the president’s support was important and the very end of this process, Jared Kushner’s involvement at the very beginning of this process was critical,” Jeffries said. “Once several of us House Democrats concluded that Kushner was authentically serious about trying to get something done to reform our broken criminal justice system and we knew that there would be a pathway to try to negotiate the most meaningful criminal justice reform bill that will have passed out of this Congress if it gets signed into law in decades.”

Lemon then asked who deserves the credit.

“Well, everyone deserves the credit,” Jeffries answered.