Finally, the bill would allow offenders sentenced before a 2010 reduction in the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine to petition for their cases to be re-evaluated. The provision could alter the sentences of several thousand drug offenders serving lengthy sentences for crack-cocaine offenses. That would help many African-American offenders who were disproportionately punished for crack dealing while white drug dealers got off easier for selling powder cocaine.
For the bill’s supporters, Tuesday’s vote was the culmination of a five-year campaign on Capitol Hill that only months ago appeared to be out of reach while Mr. Trump was in office.
Much of the same coalition that pushed the First Step Act had rallied around similar legislation, the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015. With Mr. Obama’s support, as well as that of Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, and Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin, the more expansive bill had appeared destined for passage before Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and majority leader, stepped in and refused to give it a vote in the run-up to the 2016 election.
Mr. McConnell seemed intent on denying proponents another shot this year, but they secured a powerful ally early on in Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
Over the course of the past year, Mr. Kushner worked with Mr. Grassley, Mr. Durbin and Senator Mike Lee, Republican of Utah, to draft a compromise that the president could back. With Mr. Trump’s endorsement, the group brought a strong majority of Senate Republicans on board. By last week, under intense pressure from his own party and the White House, Mr. McConnell relented. And on Tuesday, facing his own re-election fight in 2020, Mr. McConnell somewhat unexpectedly cast his own vote in favor of the bill.
For Democrats and Republicans who favored greater changes, Mr. Trump’s endorsement came at a cost: They had to scale back their proposed sentencing changes. The 2015 bill made all sentencing reductions retroactive to include those currently in prison, but the bill passed on Tuesday limits most of those changes to future offenders.
But by winning the support of a tough-talking, anticrime president who enjoys deep loyalty among Republican voters, the groups believe they have shifted the debate in a way that could set the stage for additional changes and elevate the criminal justice debate before the 2020 Democratic primaries.