The architect behind Congress’s latest successful criminal justice reform bill said President Biden is “right” not to veto the GOP-led crime law in D.C. that overrides local law.
On Thursday, President Biden surprised Congress by announcing that he would not block changes to Washington, D.C.’s new penal code — just days after his administration denounced the proposal as a violation of “home rule.”
“I mean, honestly, it’s the right thing to do,” Ja’Ron Smith, the top black Trump aide and former chief of the Office of American Innovation, told DailyMail.com in an interview.
“The way DC did it is the wrong way,” said Smith, one of the main leaders of the First Step Act.
Smith, a DC-area resident, said he had “huge concerns” about the city’s crime law, which overwhelmingly defeated a veto from Mayor Muriel Bowser. “It’s another example of progressive individuals out of touch with these communities, creating incentives for more crime.”
Citywide legislation would remove mandatory minimum sentences and lower maximum sentences for crimes such as carjackings and robberies. It also gives nearly all felony charges the right to trial by jury.
“I think we need to be a lot more nuanced and how we deal with the criminal justice system, particularly with regard to nonviolent criminals,” Smith said.
I mean, honestly, it’s the right thing to do,” Ja’Ron Smith, the top black Trump aide and former chief of the Office of American Innovation, told DailyMail.com in an interview.
Small crowd on the second full day of CPAC on Friday
“But there certainly needs to be a lot more accountability to violent criminals, but also to our way of thinking about crime prevention, through access to opportunity, through investing in police officers and technology around policing.”
Some House Democrats said they felt cheated by the president, voting against the legislation because they believed the president would veto it. Progressives said Biden’s veto would conflict with his push for statehood in DC.
The First Step Act aimed to reduce some federal sentences and improve conditions in federal prisons.
In a provision known as “compassionate release,” it was designed to free people who are terminally ill in federal prison or who pose little to no threat to society. However, data shows that judges are outright deny many compassionate release requests.
It also allowed those who were in federal prison for crack cocaine offenses and were convicted before 2010.
Smith spoke to DailyMail.com ahead of his speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), an annual gathering of the biggest names in conservative politics.
But a number of GOP heavyweights are notably absent this year — Speaker Kevin McCarthy and GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are not on the agenda, nor are potential 2024 candidates like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis or Vice President Mike Pence, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin or Senator Tim Scott, RS.C.
The annual conference is usually a place for aspiring GOP stars to test their appeal at grassroots level, raising questions about whether the conference’s clout is waning as organizer Matt Schlapp faces sexual assault allegations.
Smith said not to read in the absence of some big names.
“There’s a lot going on all at once, you know,” he said. “There are other conventions that happen across the country, and those are members that go to CPAC quite regularly, so I wouldn’t see it that way.”
Growing up in Cleveland, Ohio surrounded by Democrats, Smith said he was taught that all Republicans are “rich racists.”
“The way DC did it is the wrong way,” said Smith, one of the main leaders of the First Step Act
“But I’ve always been conservative, I just didn’t know,” he said.
The former White House adviser is at a crossroads, having worked not only for Trump, but also for two other potential presidential candidates: Pence and Scott.
He said he hasn’t given much thought to who he wants to see at the top of the ticket in 2024.
“I try to do more of the work on the ground,” Smith said.
“The most important thing, at least for my leadership, is no matter who comes out of that primary, you follow that playbook that we use in the Trump administration, which is about empowering underserved communities,” he added .
“If we don’t invest with them, if those individuals don’t get access to the American dream, we’ll be in trouble for years to come.”