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There seems to be near-universal consensus on the left and in the media that Senate Democrats’ agreement to reopen the government marked a distinct cave to the president and the Republicans, who quickly claimed victory. After all, the shutdown did not force a vote on DACA, and the only concessions the Democrats eked out was shortening the timeframe of the continuing resolution from four weeks to three and a promised intention to address DACA soon. The energized progressive base cried “surrender,”
and yeah, there’s a good argument there. [NYT] On the other hand, Democrats don’t come out of this with that bad of a hand. They’ve secured Children’s Health Insurance Program for six years and made Mitch McConnell publicly promise to get an immigration bill on the floor, and if the Republicans don’t make good on that promise, Democrats can shut the government down again in three weeks. Of course, they probably could have made that same deal Friday night, without the Sturm und Drang of a shutdown. But this also means Dreamers, whose lives have been turned into a political football, will be in limbo, though the immediate urgency has been lifted somewhat by a court decision
—which the Department of Justice has not appealed—staying Trump’s DACA rescission. [Politico]
WHAT IT MEANS:
- NYT: “Over the weekend it became clear that using the shutdown to insist on protections for hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants was a serious miscalculation. By abandoning the strategy on its third day, Democrats believe they limited whatever damage there may be and gave the public time to forget about the disruption before the crucial November election. … Heading into the showdown, Mr. Schumer and other top Democrats figured that Mr. Trump was at a vulnerable moment, given the uproar surrounding racially charged comments made in a recent meeting with senators to discuss immigration, disturbing words that came on top of persistent accounts of Oval Office chaos. And they saw the so-called Dreamers … as a particularly appealing group, as they faced deportation to countries they barely knew through no wrongdoing of their own. Polling consistently finds deep American sympathy for those immigrants, and under intense pressure from the left to stand tough, Democrats hoped the public would embrace the use of all possible measures to help them. But over the course of the weekend, Democrats increasingly came to realize they had maneuvered themselves into a difficult position that made many of the party’s moderate senators uncomfortable. Republicans were not distancing themselves from the president despite his erratic swings on immigration policy. And while the Dreamers may be a highly sympathetic group, using them as a rationale for shuttering the federal government was not playing well.”
- NYT: “Congress brought an end to a three-day government shutdown on Monday as Senate Democrats buckled under pressure to adopt a short-term spending bill to fund government operations without first addressing the fate of young undocumented immigrants. … The agreement also revealed fissures among Democrats, with about one-third of the party’s members in the Senate and a majority in the House voting against it. The passage of the measure ended an ugly, if short-lived, impasse that threatened to give a black eye to both major political parties. The deal, reached after a bipartisan group of senators pushed their leaders to come to terms, enables hundreds of thousands of federal employees who had been facing furloughs to go back to work. But a key part of the deal, a pledge by Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, to allow an immigration vote in the coming weeks, sets the stage for a battle over the so-called Dreamers, young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally as children.”
- And that’s the key: Democrats are trusting Mitch McConnell to keep his word, but Mitch McConnell has been among the Senate’s most cynical actors for years [ThinkProgress]: “But McConnell has promised many things in recent months and failed to follow through. … McConnell promised a vote on Collins-Nelson, a bill to lower Obamacare premiums, before the end of 2017. … McConnell promised a vote on Alexander-Murray, a bill to stabilize Obamacare markets, before the end of 2017. … McConnell promised to bring a DACA bill to the Senate floor in January. … McConnell promised the Republican tax plan would not raise taxes on anyone in the middle class. … McConnell promised to honor Senate tradition on judicial nominees.” All of those promises have been broken. What guarantee is there that this one won’t be?
- Even if McConnell gets a bill on the floor that passes the Senate, there’s no guarantee it would do so in the House, where Paul Ryan has been adamant about not taking up bills that don’t have the majority support of his own caucus, even if they could pass the whole chamber easily. That means he’s essentially at the mercy of hard-core conservatives who are no fans of immigrants. The only real leverage Democrats have, if Republicans refuse to protect Dreamers, is to shut the government down. But now that they tried it once, and it didn’t work, will they be willing to go to that well again?
It’s worth remembering how we got here. Trump chose to end the DACA program, putting the lives of eight hundred thousand young people in limbo. The Republicans in Congress chose not the fund the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which provides millions of children with health
care they wouldn’t otherwise have, and does it at almost no cost to the federal government. Instead, Republicans wanted to use these things—all hugely popular—as leverage in upcoming spending battles. When Democrats insisted on immigration reform, Republicans accused them of pitting sick kids and the military against illegal immigrants; the Democrats couldn’t find a way to answer that messaging. Meanwhile, the Republicans want to use the Dreamers as leverage to curtail legal immigration and pump billions of dollars into “border security,” including Trump’s stupid wall. Without the threat of a shutdown, Republicans—and more specifically, xenophobic Republicans in the House and the White House—hold all the cards.
- The big question is what happens next time. Will Democrats cave to Trump demands on the border wall and family reunification (which the Trump folks like to call “chain migration”) to protect Dreamers? Will they refuse, and watch Dreamers get deported? Or will they be willing to shut down the government again—and, this time, keep it shut down—until Republicans give in, even if doing some doesn’t poll well?