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Nancy Pelosi's Epic DACA Speech Didn't Win Over the Left

It set a record for longest House speech ever, but it didn't satisfy her many critics.

Eve Peyser

Eve Peyser

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty

On Wednesday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi gave an eight-hour speech on the House floor to protest the bipartisan deal that funded the government without providing any protections for DREAMers, the undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children.

The Democrats have been widely criticized by immigration activists for not making good on their promise to make the Obama-era DACA program, which allows DREAMers to stay and work in the US, into law. “Nancy Pelosi looked me in the face and said, ‘We are going to get this done by the end of the year,’” Adrian Reyna, who works with United We Dream, told VICE News in December. “We can’t be living our lives on false promises. We don’t have the luxury to do that.”

Pelosi's speech on one hand seemed to be a signal that she's sympathetic to concerns about DACA, and she personally voted against the budget deal on Thursday. But at the same time the notoriously savvy political operator didn't whip other Democrats to vote no, a move that might have led to an extended shutdown. (The government shut down anyway for a few hours thanks to a bit of grandstanding by Republican senator Rand Paul.)

"We have to be strong as a country... to respect the aspirations of people who are our future," Pelosi said Wednesday. "The young people are our future and these dreamers are part of that. They've been enriched... by the greatness of our country."

But those words didn't satisfy Pelosi's critics on the left.

“There’s all kinds of ways, I assure you, that leadership exercises its influence,” said Congressman Luis Gutiérrez, a Democrat from Illinois who's been critical of his party's immigration stance. "The least of which is a floor speech."

Others on the left seemed similarly skeptical. In an email, Erika Andiola, an undocumented immigrant activist who is a former Bernie Sanders press secretary and works with Our Dream, told me:

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s speech on DACA demonstrated compassion for undocumented youth, but at this point compassion is simply not enough. Dreamers don’t need compassion from Democrats; they need action. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi should demand more than an empty promise. She should use her considerable influence to make sure that House Democrats vote against this spending bill and any spending bill that does not include a clean Dream Act. The majority of Americans support undocumented youth and it is time for the Democratic leadership to act.

Glenn Greenwald, a frequent critic of the Democrats, wrote in an email that he's "questioning [the speech's] sincerity in light of what appears to be the lack of actions backing it up," and directed me to a tweet that sums up his opinion on the matter:

Overall, it seemed like Pelosi's speech, however stirring, didn't convince anyone who wanted her out of leadership that she should remain beyond 2018.

"The Democratic Party would do well to have new faces in leadership, particularly as the base of the party gets younger and more diverse while leadership remains quite old," said Sean McElwee, a leftist writer who has contributed to VICE*. "I thought Pelosi's speech was courageous and powerful and I was really happy to see it. It's another signal that the Democratic Party understands the power of it's increasingly activist base, and a real testament to the power of organizing among young people of color."

Waleed Shahid, an organizer at Justice Democrats, summed it up like this: "Pelosi's speech reflects the power of the immigrant rights movement, who have repeatedly shown up at her office making their demands heard. But we need to see the Democratic leadership back their words with action."

*Update: An earlier version of this article identified Sean McElwee as a Demos analyst. He's no longer at Demos. We regret the error.

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