New York Times
By Yamiche Alcindor and Thomas Kaplan
December 08, 2017
Liberal activists, eager for Democrats to assert what power they have left in Congress, are pressing Democratic leaders to shut down the government this Christmas if Republicans do not agree to shield young undocumented immigrants from deportation.
But moderate Democrats fear the political blowback of a holiday crisis, and equivocal statements by top Democratic leaders are giving the left reason to believe that the party will lend enough votes to keep the government open past Dec. 22, when the current spending bill is set to expire.
That has turned part of the liberal “resistance” — honed in the Trump era to target Republicans — against Democratic leaders.
“They have to be willing to go all the way to government shutdown,” said Tereza Lee, who helped stage a sit-in on Tuesday at Senator Chuck Schumer’s office in New York City demanding that he win protection for young undocumented immigrants threatened with deportation. “This is the only way. We can’t be weak.”
Frustrated immigration activists gathered at least three times this week at Mr. Schumer’s New York City office to demand that the Democratic senator publicly say that he would be willing to shut down the government if Republicans do not include an immigration measure in the end-of-the-year spending bill.
For immigration activists, that model is Republican. In the Obama years, Republican lawmakers prompted three separate fiscal crises: demands for deep spending cuts in 2011 nearly led to a debt default, efforts to block funding for the Affordable Care Act in 2013 shut down the government for more than two weeks, then a push to defund Planned Parenthood in 2015 brought the government back to the brink.
Each effort brought a short-term hit to Republican popularity, but political repercussions had long faded by the time the elections of 2012, 2014 and 2016 rolled round.
Now Democrats hold the whip, since no broad spending bill can clear Congress without their votes. But Mr. Schumer and Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the House Democratic leader, have not said overtly that they are willing to let funding lapse after Dec. 22.
Instead, Democratic aides say, bipartisan negotiations in the Senate should be allowed to progress without Democrats making threats to Republicans that may aggravate them. Mr. Schumer said the topic of immigration came up this week when he, Ms. Pelosi, Speaker Paul D. Ryan and Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, met with President Trump at the White House.
“There was no disagreement that it should be done,” Mr. Schumer said at an event in upstate New York. “The question was when, where, how and why, and those discussions are continuing. We hope to get it done before the end of the year.”
Talks have made some headway in resolving the threat hanging over young undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children. Those immigrants, known as Dreamers, were protected by the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, but Mr. Trump rescinded the program in September and gave Congress six months to respond before deportations could begin.
But immigration advocates want a harder line.
“People are actually losing their protection from deportation, losing their ability to work, losing their ability to support their families,” said Nayim Islam, an immigrant rights organizer for Desis Rising Up & Moving, a group seeking broad legislation that protects young immigrants, called the Dream Act. “The reality of what a government shutdown would mean for certain folks and their means of income or for jobs, that is already a reality for a lot of undocumented immigrants.”
Marielena Hincapié, the executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, said that lawmakers had to make sure they “no longer play with the lives of young immigrants,” but added that she felt confident that an immigration deal would be reached.
“They have made a commitment to the immigrant rights movement and most importantly, they have made a commitment to Dreamers themselves that they will get this done by the end of the year,” she said of Democrats. “If the way to fulfill this commitment is to withhold their votes, that is what we are expecting them to do.”
Ms. Hincapié and others say they plan to hammer that message home in protests and coordinated calls to lawmakers.
Erika Andiola, 30, an undocumented immigrant who is organizing protests in Washington, said she was tired of Democrats using immigration to “pander” to communities without following through.
“This is a time for them to show up,” she said. “Especially Schumer because he has a lot more leverage in the Senate to say, ‘This is on the top of my agenda, and I’m going to move my entire caucus to vote no on the spending bill if the Dream Act is not on there.’ But we have not been able to get him to even acknowledge that or say that. So it’s absolutely frustrating for a lot of us.”
In 2007, a version of the Dream Act won the support of a majority of senators but fell victim to a bipartisan filibuster that included eight Democrats. Three years later, the bill passed the House but again did not get through the Senate.
Then in 2013, language allowing Dreamers to stay in the country and work or attend school was included in a broader immigration package that passed the Senate with 68 votes — then failed in the House.
Over the next two weeks, Democrats do have significant leverage. House Republicans managed to approve a stopgap spending measure on Thursday without needing any Democratic votes for passage. But in the Senate, where Republicans hold 52 seats, Democrats could filibuster the next spending measure, an action that would take 60 votes to overcome.
So far, several liberal senators have vowed not to vote for a spending measure without a deal to protect Dreamers, including Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Kamala Harris of California, Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, as well as Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat and the original author of the Dream Act.
But others are likely to be more reluctant, especially more moderate Democrats up for re-election next year, like Joe Manchin III of West Virginia.
“Senator Manchin believes that the Senate should stay here and finish their work,” his spokesman, Jonathan Kott, said on Friday. “There is no reason for us to shut down the government.”
At a news conference on Thursday, Ms. Pelosi indicated the delicate position that Democratic leaders find themselves in.
Democrats insist that Republicans, not their party, would be responsible for any shutdown. Yet they also want to show a commitment to addressing the DACA issue.
“Democrats are not willing to shut government down,” Ms. Pelosi told reporters, while also saying, “We will not leave here without a DACA fix.”
Indivisible, a liberal activist organization, is asking its local chapters to push Democratic members of Congress to publicly commit to voting against the spending measure this month if no deal is reached over DACA, said Angel Padilla, the policy director for the group.
“Even though Democrats love to take pictures with Dreamers and love to give big speeches about the Dream Act, when it comes down to their vote, they’re not willing to throw down for the Dream Act,” he said.
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