Senate Democrats shut the government down in hopes of striking a deal to shield 700,000 young immigrants from deportation. In the end, they got a promise of a vote — one that Republicans argue was going to happen, anyway.
Democrats lost the shutdown war. That much was obvious when they voted to re-open the government with little to show for it. They had vowed for weeks not to back any funding bill without a bipartisan agreement to protect so-called Dreamers. But as Washington entered day three of a government shutdown, Democrats folded, voting to reopen the government barely any closer to their goal.
Republicans declared victory.
“We gave them nothing,” said House Republican Study Committee Chairman Mark Walker. “We’ve been able to get our message out as Republicans as a whole and be consistent and be united on this front.”
Added Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), a top member of the Senate Appropriations Committee: “Nobody wins in a shutdown, and this time, surely the Democrats didn’t win.”
Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), who had been meeting with numerous senators to try to dig themselves out of the mess, was a bit more gentle toward Democrats. “They took off, but they didn’t know whether they were gonna land,” he said. “So we gave them a place where they could land.”
Yet Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) couldn’t resist taunting Democrats: “Sure, they got a commitment from Sen. McConnell, the majority leader, to take up the immigration bill in February. He was going to do that anyway.”
The three-day standoff offered further proof that shutdowns never end well for those making the demands. In 2013, Republicans shuttered federal agencies in an attempt to hold up funding for Obamacare. After 16 days, they folded with nothing to show for it. Obamacare remained intact.
Democrats now find themselves in the very same position.
“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,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Monday. “So I’m glad we’ve gotten past that and we have a chance now to get back to work.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) sought to justify Democrats’ decision to shutter the government, arguing that they “have always sought to be reasonable, to act in good faith, and to get something real done.” He pinned the blame on an “obstinate” President Donald Trump, saying Republicans have “dithered” in striking an immigration deal.
And he held up McConnell’s promise of a vote as a victory for the left.
“The Senate has muddled along for too long, content to delay action on our most pressing challenges until the very last moment. That ends today,” he said. “The Republican majority now has seventeen days to prevent the Dreamers from being deported.”
Numerous Senate Democrats insisted they secured a win with their scorched-earth tactics by cornering McConnell into a pledge that he would take up an open, freewheeling immigration debate on the floor before March. That’s when immigrants protected under the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program will begin losing protections en masse, although a court order is temporarily allowing DACA beneficiaries to renew their permits.
“We got a commitment to have the first immigration debate on the floor in five years and we have a group of 30, equally divided between Democrats and Republicans … to fix DACA,” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), whose state is home to federal workers who were starting to face furloughs on Monday. “I have trust that we will get to a good place in the Senate.”
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) said she trusts McConnell to follow through.
“I think he made a public commitment not just on the floor of the Senate, but to Republicans who were concerned about this issue and to Democrats who’ve expressed concern,” she said. “He’ll keep that promise.”
In reality, however, GOP leaders have said all along they wanted to take care of undocumented immigrants who came to the country as minors and were hoping to vote on legislation in the coming weeks. While the agreement perhaps sped that timeline, there’s no guarantee that the vote will pass — particularly in the more conservative House.
Indeed, Democrats and Republicans were no closer to a DACA deal on Monday than they were before the shutdown, raising the possibility of another potential showdown over keeping the government open after Feb. 8.
Pushed by liberal base to enshrine DACA protections into law, Democrats felt they had the moral high ground to make a stand. They pointed to polls that showed that 80 percent of Americans want a solution for Dreamers. And after Trump’s remarks about immigrants from “shithole” countries earlier this month, Democrats were emboldened, thinking now was the time to draw a line.
It turns out, however, that while the public wants a solution for Dreamers, they don’t want it at the expense of shutting down the government, according to some recent polling. Republicans framed the standoff as Democrats putting the interests of immigrants here illegally over Americans. And they didn’t budge from their position that they would not negotiate on DACA until Democrats reopened the government.
“We’re not moving,” said Rep. Mimi Walters, a California Republican close with House GOP leadership, on Monday morning. “Any time you want to put people who are in this country illegally over American citizens, I think you have a problem. And that’s the message that they’re sending to the American public: that the Democrats care more about people who are in this country illegally than their own citizens.”
Most Senate Democrats, perhaps sensing that public opinion was moving against them, voted with their GOP counterparts Monday to advance a bill that would fund the government through Feb. 8. In return, they received a promise the Senate would continue negotiating, as they were before.
If the parties don’t agree to a deal by Feb. 8, McConnell vowed to take up stand-alone legislation to fix the matter and let the Senate work its will on the floor — as long as the government remained open.
The deal, however, doesn’t bind the House. Senate Democrats had sought a commitment from Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) that he would put any Senate-passed immigration deal on the House floor. They didn’t get that.
The outcome will likely weaken Democrats’ hand on immigration. During negotiations, Schumer and multiple House Democrats said they would fund part of Trump’s proposed border wall in return for a Dreamers fix. That offer could embolden Trump and Republicans to seek additional concessions the next time around.
The House is expected to clear the legislation sometime Monday afternoon, enabling hundreds of thousands of federal employees to return to work on Tuesday. The question will then be whether Congress will find itself in the same situation in three weeks.
But for now, Republicans will continue to hammer Democrats over the three-day debacle.
“We’re where we were last Friday,” said Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa). “Why did we shut the government down?”
Kyle Cheney contributed to this report.
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