That was, until a superstar singer gave bipartisan reform advocates a huge boost.
In a sultry Valentine's Day themed video
, Alicia Keys urged House Speaker Paul Ryan to show "love and compassion" by scheduling a vote on justice reforms. She also encouraged millions of her fans and supporters to send their own messages
to the speaker of the U.S. House.
The Grammy-award winner's campaign (part of the We Are Here Movement
she founded two years ago), in partnership with #cut50
(my bipartisan justice reform initiative), aims to bring much-needed attention to our overcrowded federal prisons.
Keys' campaign has elicited more than just raised eyebrows and giggles on Capitol Hill. It already compelled a response from Ryan himself.
Visibly amused, the speaker said in response
, "Criminal justice reforms are well on their way in the U.S. House." The next day, he was asked about the issue again. He spoke more clearly: "I am committed to giving floor time to criminal justice reform." He also endorsed the same legislation supported by the Obama administration.
Like Keys' activism, bipartisan consensus on criminal justice reform did not spring up overnight.
Both have been many years in the making.
Keys founded the We Are Here Movement
to engage and educate her audience about the many issues that prevent equality and justice across our world. I co-founded #cut50 to push for bold, transformative changes to our justice system.
Last March, the Bipartisan Summit
hosted by my #cut50 campaign and Gingrich Productions (run by former Speaker Newt Gingrich) helped supercharge the justice reform movement
. Half a dozen bills and numerous partnerships emerged from that convening of unlikely allies. The celebrated, strange-bedfellows partnership between Obama White House officials and Koch Industries was actually born at that summit.
In October, more than 100 celebrities, including Keys, signed a petition
calling on Congress and the President to pass comprehensive criminal justice reforms.
To help move congressional leadership to action, Keys joined me and U.S. Sen. Cory Booker on Capitol Hill in November to make an impassioned plea to key staffers and White House officials
Proposals have been introduced in Congress
, achieved bipartisan consensus and passed out of judiciary committees. Despite all the consensus, all the evidence
, all the urgency, and all the popularity
, they are still awaiting a vote on the floors of the House and Senate.
Ryan should follow his words with action. He should instruct House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy to schedule bills for a vote as soon as possible, lest we miss a very narrow window of opportunity before election season kicks into high gear.
There are only a few months left before Congress breaks for summer recess. If bills are not passed before then, we will likely miss this historic moment of opportunity.
The President has acted
. The states have acted
. It is time for Congress to do the same.