Senate Democrats on Monday compromised on a short-term spending measure to re-open the the federal government after forcing a shutdown over an impasse on immigration.
But some progressives and immigration activists preferred another word: caved.
Three days after Democrats rejected a stop-gap bill because it did not include protections for Dreamers, young undocumented immigrants shielded by an Obama-era program known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or Daca, they yielded, ending the first government shutdown in a half decade.
In a 81-18 vote on Monday, Democrats approved a three-week spending measure in exchange for a commitment from Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, who pledged to bring up legislation that would extend protections to Dreamers, whose status was thrown into chaos when Trump cancelled Daca in September.
The House passed the bill later on Monday, in a vote largely along party lines.
Dick Durbin, the No 2 Democrat in the Senate and one of the leading congressional advocates for Dreamers, saw the silver linings of the deal.
“Parts of this were a victory in terms of moving to immigration for the first time in five years, with a deadline, with an understood procedure with the other side acknowledging this is about Daca,” Durbin said. “They started using that word. Leader McConnell started using it today. It isn’t where I wanted to be today but I think we are closer to our goal than we’ve ever been.”
Tim Kaine, the 2016 Democratic nominee for vice-president, echoed this. “The commitment we made today is we’re going forward [on immigration] whether or not the president wants us to.”
Yet other Democrats were skeptical of leaving the fate of Dreamers in the hands of the Senate majority leader, who they do not trust, and the president, who has proved to be an unpredictable negotiator.
“I don’t believe he made any commitment whatsoever,” Kamala Harris, a senator from California who opposed the bill, said after the Senate advanced the measure. “And I think it would be foolhardy to believe that he made a commitment.”
Harris was among several progressive lawmakers and potential 2020 Democratic presidential candidates who rejected the bill, including senators Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
Democrats went into the weekend confident that voters were on their side. Public polling indicated that Republicans, who control both chambers of Congress and the White House, would be held responsible.
But Trump and Republicans spent the days since the shut down attacking Democrats for prioritizing undocumented immigrants over members of the military.
“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 in remarks on the floor on Monday.
In contrast to the 2013 government shutdown, when conservative Republicans threatened to close the government over Obamacare, Democrats did achieve some successes. They had long pushed for re-authorization of the children’s health insurance program (Chip) and the concession by McConnell for a floor vote on immigration could spur action on immigration while shifting the onus back on to Republicans.
This, however, didn’t not satisfy many in the party’s activist base, who accused lawmakers of betrayal.
“Last week, I was moved to tears of joy when Democrats stood up and fought for progressive values and for Dreamers,” said Frank Sharry, the executive director of America’s Voice, a national immigration advocacy group. “Today, I am moved to tears of disappointment and anger that Democrats blinked.”
The drawdown was particularly glaring in the aftermath of the Women’s March, which saws tens of thousands of activists in cities across the country protest Trump and congressional Republicans. Many of the women carried signs in support of the Dream Act, legislative fix for the young immigrants.
“Millions of people flooded the streets of every major American city to stand up to Trump this weekend,” said Leah Greenberg, the co-executive director of Indivisible, an influential activists network. “Your constituents want you to fight. How can you possibly not understand that?”
Charles Chamberlain, the executive director of the progressive organization, Democracy for America, said Democrats “stunning display of moral and political cowardice” jeopardizes the party’s chances of reclaiming the House majority in 2018.
Progressives and immigrant advocates are doubtful the House will take up the measure to offer legal status to undocumented immigrants. House speaker Paul Ryan has not agreed to bring an immigration bill up for a votes. Further, Republicans aren’t sure what Trump wants on immigration.
“If Trump can be compelled to do something other than cower in fear, he could flip the House in an instant,” said Ben Wikler, the Washington director at MoveOn.org. “Short of that it takes a tsunami of grassroots pressure to make Republicans who say they support Dreamers actually use the power they hold.”
Earlier this month, Trump called for a bipartisan “bill of love” that would protect Dreamers and also provide funding for a wall along the southern border. During the same meeting, he embraced comprehensive immigration reform and promised to shield Republicans from the political blowback if they struck a deal. But in the intervening weeks, he has walked back from accepting a deal.
Some Republicans have insisted they should only consider legislation with the White House’s seal of approval. “We should not spend our time on passing a bill that the president wouldn’t sign,” said Chuck Grassley of Iowa, who is the chair of the Senate judiciary committee.
Not all progressive organizations heaped blame on Democrats.
“It’s remarkable that Republicans cannot keep a Republican-run government open,” said Jesse Lehrich of Organizing for America.
“Now, we all must ensure Mitch McConnell keeps his word.”
This article was written by Lauren Gambino and Ben Jacobs in Washington, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 23rd January 2018 00.54 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
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