In his political ploy to be seen as a leader in criminal justice reform, Trump paraded several Black felons on stage during a press conference on Monday to promote his proposed second phase of the First Step Act. The bill, which passed in December and aims to reduce the number of incarcerated people.
Trump said Monday that a “Second Step Act” will focus on “successful re-entry and reduced unemployment for Americans with past criminal records.” He noted that ex-convicts with criminal backgrounds are unemployed at rates up to five times the national average. In fact, African-American male felons are more disadvantaged than any other demographic group.
He touted passage of the First Step Act during his State of the Union Address in February, but details of the measure were worked out by a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers and President Barack Obama before Trump took office.
As the national movement to restore felon voting rights picks up steam, Trump likely sees an opportunity to capitalize on the votes of Black felons and their families who benefit from his proposed legislation.
At the press conference, Trump called Gregory Allen, who was released from prison early under the First Step Act, to the microphone. Allen called Trump’s so-called leadership on prison reform and his second chance as an example of what would “make America great again.”
Iowa is one of the latest states to take steps to restore felon voting right. The Iowa House last Thursday overwhelmingly passed a proposed constitutional amendment to grant voting rights to the ex-convicts.
Alabama’s felons displayed the power of their newly restored rights in the 2017 election that helped to sweep Democrat Doug Jones into the U.S. Senate in one the nation’s reddest states.
The biggest prize would be in the swing state of Florida where a 2018 referendum restored felon voting rights. Up to 1.4 million felons—disproportionately African-American—regained their rights to cast ballots under the referendum, reversing an 18th-century law that made it nearly impossible for felons to vote after serving their time in prison.
Florida, which has banned more felons from voting than any other state, was blocking 21.5 percent of African-Americans from casting ballots, achieving the goals of felony disenfranchisement laws that were historically intended to reduce Black voting power.