Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan stopped in Las Vegas Wednesday afternoon for a fundraiser and a roundtable discussion on criminal justice reform — an issue that’s been one of his personal priorities in Congress.
Ryan sat next to Republican House candidate Cresent Hardy during the event at the organization Hope for Prisoners, which works with people after they’re released from jail or prison. Former inmates, along with director Jon Ponder, were set to discuss their personal experiences in the program with Ryan during the roundtable, which was mostly closed to the press apart from a few minutes of opening remarks.
“We need to do more to redeem people that are in our communities and to help people get back on their feet, to get back to redemption and to find great lives,” said Ryan. “And this gives us hope that there are phenomenal answers already out there in the community that show us how to do this.”
Also attending the event were current and former high-ranking police officials, Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson and the directors of state prison, parole and employment agencies. Hope for Prisoners closely integrates with law enforcement; graduation ceremonies for the program are often held at police headquarters, and at mentions of police, participants say in unison “our friends.”
Wolfson said he didn’t think prosecutors had a place in re-entry a few years ago, but now believes they should be involved at both the front and back end of incarceration.
“It’s part of the new re-entry system,” he said.
Ryan said some of his sentencing reform proposals have passed the House, but they’ve stalled in the Senate, where hardline Republicans such as Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton have criticized them as soft on crime. One proponent of sentencing reform, Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn, told Politico on Wednesday that he doesn’t see the chamber taking up the issue before November.
“I think the sentencing reforms are still controversial and divide Republicans. I just don’t see the wisdom of dividing Republicans on a contentious matter like that before the election,” he said.
At the roundtable, Ryan also put in a plug for Hardy, who’s in a tough race against Democrat Steven Horsford in Nevada’s 4th Congressional District.
“We worked on these issues in Congress before, and I’m excited to see you come back so you can continue working on these things and this is what we want to see more of,” Ryan said.
Hardy said in an interview Wednesday that he “absolutely” supports Ryan’s vision for criminal justice reform, which includes reducing mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders.
“If we can get people out of the system, paying taxes rather than using taxes, that’s a great thing,” Hardy said.
As for the possibility of looking soft on crime, Hardy said it was time to “stop playing politics with everything. We need to just legislate stop worrying about the next election.”
Hardy said Ryan held a fundraiser for him afterward at Martin Harris Construction before the speaker headed out of town.
Ryan did not grant interviews during the stop. An NBC reporter tweeted that she shouted a question to him as he left the roundtable out of a side door, asking whether he thought President Donald Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen’s guilty plea implicated the president, but Ryan declined to answer.
Asked whether he has concerns about the developments in criminal cases involving people close to Trump, Hardy demurred.
“I’m not worried about what’s going on on the political scene. I’ve got a race to run,” he said, adding that “justice will prevail all the way down the line.”