Tillis Might Not be Back After 2020 if Things Don’t Get Done

North Carolina senator wants progress on criminal justice reform, other issues

North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis says he worked on criminal justice overhaul legislation when he was speaker of the North Carolina House. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Sen. Thom Tillis said Wednesday that if Congress cannot tackle a criminal justice overhaul and other big-ticket issues with bipartisan solutions in the next few years, he might not run for re-election.

“I don’t run again until 2020, and if we’re not able to get things like this done, I don’t have any intention of coming back,” the North Carolina Republican said at The Washington Post Juvenile Justice Summit.

Tillis, who was elected in 2014, joined Delaware Democratic Sen. Chris Coons at the event to discuss the prospects of addressing criminal justice policies in the next Congress. A bill known as the Sentencing and Corrections Reform Act gained bipartisan support, but did not come to the Senate floor due to a group of staunch opponents.

[Once a Cinch, Criminal Justice Bill Just Another Campaign Promise]

One of those opponents was Sen. Jeff Sessions, who is President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee to be the next attorney general. The Alabama Republican would oversee criminal justice policies if confirmed to be the next head of the Justice Department.

Tillis told the audience that he was still optimistic a sentencing overhaul could get done in the next Congress, despite Sessions’ opposition.

GOP Plans Swift Confirmation for Sessions as Attorney General ]

“I’d give it even odds,” Tillis said. Coons quickly responded, “He’s an optimist.”

Tillis explained, “A lot of that has to do with how Chris can manage his crazies and how I can manage our crazies.”

“I don’t know if senators normally come up and talk this way but I’m tired of everybody sitting on the sidelines, waving at their parades and never playing the game,” Tillis said. “This is a critically important issue. This is a solvable problem.”

Tillis pointed out that he worked on criminal justice overhaul legislation while he was speaker of the North Carolina House. He worked to pass the Justice Reinvestment Act, which altered the state’s sentencing laws, as well as other measures relating to juvenile justice.

“Everybody told me when I did this that I would be cooked. That there was no way I could run for statewide office,” Tillis said. “Here I am.”

“And so the fact of the matter is we need people to stand up and understand that political courage is Chris going to his caucus, me going to my caucus, and say, ‘Stop it. It is time to solve this problem,’” Tillis said. “And if we do that, we’ll solve it.”

Contact Bowman at bridgetbowman@rollcall.com and follow her on Twitter @bridgetbhc

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.