As the nation’s capital devolves into partisan brinkmanship over legal protections for certain young, undocumented immigrants known as “DREAMers,” it’s hard to tell who’s on what side, who said what, who’s lying, and who’s on first.
Democrats and Republicans trash each other, then team up, then retreat to their corners. The president continues to deny he’s a racist. And the government teeters on the edge of a shutdown that could start as early as midnight if Congress fails to act. The center of the fight has now passed from the House, which has passed a one-month government funding bill to keep the lights on, to the Senate, which may or may not do the same by the end of today.
And squarely at the center of the heated negotiations is the now-threatened Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, that gives legal status to thousands of immigrants brought to this country when they were young. As a story on Vox put it, “all of a sudden, Senate Democrats are looking ready to shut down the government over immigration. After months of fruitless negotiations over helping to get legal status for the hundreds of thousands of immigrants protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — something President Trump and Speaker Paul Ryan have both claimed to want — they seem to have had enough.”
Here’s the latest in the battle over DACA, how it might impact the looming government shutdown, and where the possible paths of compromise among lawmakers may lead going forward:
The Ball is in the Senate’s Court
House GOP leaders are giving their rank-and-file members the green light to leave Washington Friday after the last vote series of the week set for later this morning, sources tell The Hill. That means that House members will be long gone when and if their Senate counterparts consider the same bill. If the Senate chokes, the government’s non-essential services – think national parks, food inspectors, immigration services – will come to a full or partial close.
“The feeling among House Republicans is that their chamber did it’s job and now it’s the Senate’s turn to avert a shutdown at midnight Friday,” says The Hill. “But Senate Democrats say they’ll filibuster the continuing resolution and force a shutdown unless there is a deal to protect” DACA recipients.
“Nothing has changed scheduling wise in the House. It currently stands that after the vote members are allowed to leave,” one GOP aide familiar with the House schedule told The Hill.
DACA is Dead Center in the Shutdown Debate
Protecting DREAMers has moved to center stage as we face a government closure, but that doesn’t mean the debate is split evenly along party lines. A Vox report describes how not all Senate Democrats agree that withholding their votes from any funding bill if it doesn’t address DACA is a good idea.
Some member argue that now is the time to take a stand for DREAMers. “A show of strength at a high-profile deadline, they think, is the only way to force a recalcitrant White House to get serious on the issue,” says Vox. “They say the public supports a deal, and that Republicans’ own divisions on spending give Democrats an opening. (The former Obama aides behind the Pod Save America podcast have dubbed this faction the ‘Fight Club.’)”
“Republicans control the House, Senate, and the White House, so it’s on them to bring a deal that is supported by 80 percent of the American people,” says an aide to a Fight Club Democratic senator.
Others, quietly, believe that a “shutdown fight would be downright counterproductive to efforts to help DACA recipients. These Democrats — let’s call them the ‘Shutdown Skeptics’ — privately worry that forcing a government shutdown could end up torpedoing chances to cut an immigration deal with Trump. “It essentially forces Trump to draw a line,’ says an aide to a senator in this camp.”
The Democrats Could Wield its Newfound Leverage
After failing for months to deal squarely with protecting DACA, and despite some on-again-off-again traction they’ve made with President Trump, Congressional Democrats now have the power, some say, to force Republicans to work out a way to ensure DREAMers aren’t suddenly kicked out of the country en masse.
Republicans need the Democrats’ votes to get a funding bill past a Senate filibuster. But to make that deal as they sit on the shutdown cliff Democrats must act quickly and use their newfound leverage. Also in the Dems’ favor: some Republicans have expressed support for a DACA deal, while both President Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan have both said they also want one. One more thing: a DACA deal polls extremely well.
In the Meantime, Sparks Fly
The White House, says Fox News, “coined a decidedly Trumpian phrase Friday in the battle to assign blame for the looming budget standoff, branding it the “Schumer Shutdown.”
Its author, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, used a Friday morning press conference to attack Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer for his party’s refusal to back a short-term spending bill unless it includes protections for DREAMers.
“The nickname echoed President Trump’s well-documented penchant for hanging nicknames on political adversaries,” said the report. “The move comes as Republicans and Democrats scramble to assign blame to their opponents, knowing that whoever is seen to be behind the shutdown is also under pressure to return to the bargaining table.”
While a Shutdown Looms, So Might a Compromise?
For starters, Trump needs to refrain from doing anything that might scuttle negotiations in the Senate like he did Thursday with a tweet that was interpreted as disparaging of the current proposal to keep the government funded. And his previous comments about “shithole countries” effectively killed a bipartisan deal in the works Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) had hammered together, only to see it flounder.
If he can do that, the Senate may be able to work out a deal as their House counterparts had done Thursday. As CNN reported, “while reluctant to pass yet another short-term continuing resolution — the fourth in just months — many rank-and-file members seemed mostly resigned Wednesday to the fact that it was the only option, even if they were not happy about it.
“What other choice do have this week,” asked New Jersey Republican Rep. Tom MacArthur. “I’m certainly not going to vote to shut the government down. That’s irresponsible.”
Then again, it’s still unclear exactly how Majority Leader Mitch McConnell might manage to get the votes needed to keep the government running for now. CNN points out that “McConnell, unlike, Ryan needs Democrats. And many Democrats were keeping their powder dry as to how they would vote, waiting on the House to lay their cards on the table and prove they had the GOP votes on their own to pass the continuing resolution.
“Senate Democrats are also caught in a tough spot,” said the report. “A handful are running for re-election in states where Trump handily won in 2016. Red state Democrats don’t want to run the risk of being labeled as responsible for a shutdown.”
“I want to keep the government open. I’m just going to work and work and work to keep the government open,” West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin told the network.
“But others are under pressure from their liberal base who mobilized when lawmakers voted for a short-term spending bill last time around. Several Democrats who voted for the last continuing resolution including both senators from Virginia and New Mexico announced in the past 24 hours that they would vote against this current proposal.”
And Here’s the Latest . . .
At the eleventh hour, Trump suddenly canceled his planned trip to his “Winter White House” in Mar-a-Lago. At the same time, the Washington Post is reporting “with less than 12 hours before the midnight deadline to avert a government shutdown, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) was headed to the White House after receiving a phone call from President Trump about striking a deal, according to a person familiar with the conversation.
“House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) were not attending the meeting, according to their staff.
“Trump and the Republicans, who control all levers of government, faced the possibility of the government closing on the first anniversary of Trump’s inauguration.”