Progressives hammer Senate Democrats for striking deal with GOP to reopen government
WASHINGTON — Progressives hammered Senate Democrats on Monday for “caving” to the GOP with a deal to end the three-day government shutdown that does not immediately protect so-called “DREAMers,” immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally as children.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York came under withering criticism after announcing the compromise, which calls for continued negotiations on DREAMer legislation through Feb. 8 when new spending legislation to open the government expires. Schumer said he and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky agreed that if there’s no broader accord by that date, the Senate would then immediately take up DREAMer legislation.
But progressives said they don't trust GOP promises and Democratic senators shouldn't have, either. They argued Schumer gave up any leverage by not continuing to insist that the immigration measure be included in must-pass spending legislation.
“It’s official: Chuck Schumer is the worst negotiator in Washington – even worse than Trump,” Murshed Zaheed, political director of the liberal group CREDO, adding that Schumer failed DREAMers and let down the Democratic Party, “in getting outmaneuvered by Sen. McConnell.”
Ezra Levin, co-executive director of the Indivisible Project, called the deal “morally reprehensible and political malpractice” and blamed Schumer for leading his caucus to “surrender” and not fighting for progressive values.
“Democrats clearly want to keep DREAMers as a talking point, but they need to grow a spine and actually fight for the DREAM Act,” he said.
In announcing the deal, Schumer said the agreement is a “way forward,” even if it doesn’t satisfy all on both sides. He said he’s confident that a bill to protect DREAMers will pass the Senate.
“And now there’s a real pathway to get a bill on the floor and through the Senate,” he said. “It is a good solution and I will vote for it.”
Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat and an original author of the “DREAM Act,” urged DREAMers not to “give up.”
“I know that your lives are hanging in the balance on what we do here on Capitol Hill and with the White House,” he said on the Senate floor. “Three weeks from now, I hope to be joining you in celebrating the passage with you and your families and your communities, a measure which will strengthen America and give you an opportunity to be part of our future.”
Along with three weeks of government funding, the bill includes a six-year extension of the Children's Health Insurance Program, a key Democratic priority. That got little attention amid the focus on DREAMers.
The DREAM Act was first introduced in 2001, but legal protections for DREAMers took on greater urgency following the Trump administration’s decision in September to phase out Obama-era protections under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, DACA, program. Absent congressional action, those protections will end in March.
DREAMer legislation has bipartisan support, but Republicans thought the issue should be part of a broader immigration bill rather than a bill to fund the government.
Eager to blame the shutdown on Democrats, the Republican National Committee shared tweets questioning what Democrats got out of the deal. After Schumer spoke, McConnell thanked him, but added a zinger.
“I think if we've learned anything during this process, it’s that a strategy to shut down the government over the issue of illegal immigration, is something the American people didn't understand and would not have understood in the future,” McConnell said. “So I'm glad we've gotten past that and we have a chance now to get back to work.”
President Trump’s campaign sent out an email with the subject line, “Democrats CAVED,” and Trump, in a statement, said he was pleased Democrats have "come to their senses."
The 18 senators who voted against legislation to open the government included some of the Senate’s most liberal members and potential 2020 presidential candidates: Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent. Two Republicans – Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky – also voted no.
“I am deeply disappointed that today’s outcome fails to protect Dreamers,” Gillibrand tweeted. “They deserve better from the elected leaders of the only country many of them have ever called home.”
Senate Democrats are facing a difficult electoral map in 2018, defending 10 seats in states that Trump won. Continuing to push for a deal Republicans weren’t going to make would be risky, not only for vulnerable Senate Democrats, but for challengers to GOP lawmakers in the House and Senate, said Matthew Miller, a former communications director for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
“I just don’t believe the Republicans were ever going to give in on DACA, and the longer the government stayed closed, the more risky the proposition for Democrats was likely to become,” Miller said. “Everything has been moving in Democrats’ direction politically, so if you can’t achieve the policy outcome you want, why try to juggle a live grenade that could blow up in your face?”
Democrats didn’t get a lot out of the deal but the brief nature of the shutdown and Trump’s “ability to quickly refocus the discussion” will make this a “blip on the radar screen, likely causing little harm to Senate Democrats running for re-election," said Doug Thornell, a former DSCC national press secretary.