Senate Democrats cave on DACA and vote to reopen the government

"They got less than nothing; it's baffling."
January 22, 2018, 5:34pm

The government is open for business again.

After a 60-hour standoff in the Senate that led to a government shutdown at midnight Friday, Democrats gave up their demands for immediate protection of roughly 690,000 undocumented immigrants who were brought here as children (also known as Dreamers) and voted Monday to reopen the government, with assurances that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will bring a separate immigration bill to the floor in early February.

“We will vote to reopen the government,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. “We will continue to fight for the Dreamers in the weeks ahead.”

The continuing resolution will only keep the government open through Feb. 8. If new funding is not appropriated before then, another shutdown will ensue.

It’s unclear what the Democrats gained from their brinkmanship. While Dems immediately pointed to the guarantee of a vote on Dreamers, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had already promised that in December to Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona. “If negotiators reach an agreement on these matters by the end of January, I will bring it to the Senate floor for a free-standing vote," McConnell said at the time.

“They got less than nothing; it’s baffling,” Ezra Levin, a co-founder of the progressive group Indivisible, which has been a leader of the Trump “Resistance,” told VICE News. “It’s morally reprehensible and it's political malpractice. Instead of leaning in to their leverage, Schumer led the caucus off the cliff.”

Indivisible, along with 17 other leading groups on the Left including the ACLU, America’s Voice, and Planned Parenthood had issued a statement Monday morning calling on Democrats to stand strong and deem McConnell’s proposal “unacceptable.”

But 33 Senate Democrats voted for the continuing resolution, despite the wishes of their base. Or as White House spokesman Raj Shah put it to CNN: “They blinked.”

And some of their Democratic colleagues agreed. “I don’t believe [McConnell] made any commitment whatsoever, and I think it would be foolhardy to believe he made a commitment,” Sen. Kamala Harris of California told reporters.

The reopening of the government also sets the stage for three weeks of what's surely to be a contentious and racially fraught debate over the future of American immigration. Instead of grafting protections for Dreamers onto a budget bill as they were trying to do, Democrats will now have to give more ground to Republicans on a standalone immigration bill. The federal government is set to begin deporting Dreamers on March 5, something everyone in Washington says they don’t want.

Republicans in the House and some in the Senate have insisted that any protections for Dreamers must include enormous concessions on border security, family-based migration (called “chain migration” by some), the diversity lottery system, and even future levels of immigration.

But what the final deal will look like is unclear. President Trump has been all over the place on what he wants in return for protecting Dreamers from deportation. Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi believed they had a deal in September that would exchange protections for Dreamers for more border security as long as that did not include funding Trump’s promised border wall. Trump later said that no such deal had been struck and the White House released a long list of 70 demands, including the border wall, that the administration required in exchange for protecting Dreamers.

The moving target of Trump’s demands was like negotiating with “Jell-o,” Schumer said over the weekend. The Democratic leader even said he had acquiesced to Trump’s demands on the wall in a meeting on Friday and the offer was eventually spurned.

Before the vote, McConnell took something of a victory lap as Democrats acceded and reopened the government. “I think if we’ve learned anything during this process, it's that a strategy of shutting down the government over illegal immigration is something the American people did not understand,” he said on the Senate floor.

And at least one poll taken just before the shutdown suggests McConnell was correct. While several polls over the last week showed Americans almost evenly divided over whether to blame Democrats or Republicans for the shutdown, a CNN poll showed that people did not believe the government should remain closed to ensure protection for Dreamers.

CNN:

  • 56 percent believe approving a budget agreement to avoid a shutdown is more important than continuing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program protecting Dreamers.
  • 34 percent believe DACA is more important than a shutdown.

Senate Democrats seemed spooked by such numbers and couldn't unify behind a message. Some suggested they were purposely shutting down the government to protect Dreamers while others tried to blame Trump and the Republicans for the standoff.

Republicans meanwhile were unanimous in their declaration that Democrats were shutting down the government over protecting undocumented immigrants.

There are now 17 days until the next standoff. The countdown begins.

Cover: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell arrives and walks to his office on Capitol Hill, January 22, 2018 in Washington, D.C. Lawmakers are continuing to seek a deal to end the government shutdown. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

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