COLUMBIA, S.C. (CN) – Speaking at a forum on criminal-justice reform in South Carolina, President Donald Trump said Friday that a sweeping overhaul he signed into law last year was the result of putting “the interests of our citizens before the interest of any political party.”
The three-day Second Step Presidential Justice Forum, sponsored by the 20/20 Bipartisan Justice Center, kicked off Friday on the campus of Columbia’s historically black Benedict College. The event will also feature Democratic presidential candidates eager to lay out their plans for improving the American criminal justice system.
Trump’s keynote speech to a room of about 300 invited attendees, fewer than 10 of whom were Benedict students, focused on the ways in which his administration has attempted to champion criminal-justice reform.
The First Step Act, a bipartisan criminal-justice bill passed last year, created new sentencing guidelines and helped federal inmates obtain early release from prisons.
The president invited some of the people who benefited from the First Step Act on stage to speak, including South Carolina native Tanesha Bannister. Bannister served about 16 years in prison for drug trafficking before she was released early under the law.
“I want to thank the president for giving me another lease on life,” Bannister said.
Trump said measures like the First Step Act will continue to move the country toward a justice system that no longer disproportionately affects black Americans.
He began with an emphasis on the importance of bipartisanship.
“We worked across party lines very strongly,” he said. “The First Step Act proved that we can achieve amazing breakthroughs when we come together as a nation and we put the interests of our citizens before the interest of any political party.”
But his more partisan, rally-style rhetoric still shined through, as he urged black Americans to vote for him and slammed Democrats as being ineffective.
Winning the majority of votes in the Palmetto State, which is the first state in the South to cast primary ballots in 2020, is critical for Trump’s Democratic foes.
According to a poll that Monmouth University conducted last week, one in five black Democratic primary voters in South Carolina remain undecided.
The poll shows former Vice President Joe Biden with a significant lead of 39% among the state’s black voters. With such a high percentage of undecided voters, however, Biden’s status could quickly change.
Biden will speak during the forum this weekend, along with nine other Democrats including his closest challengers Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.