The Senate Democrats’ hell-no caucus is saying hell yes to a shutdown showdown over Dreamers.
Democrats have pressed Republicans to pass legislation by the end of the year to continue the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which grants hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants legal protections that President Donald Trump has vowed to end.
But in a White House meeting with Senate Republicans on Thursday, Trump stressed that he did not want to see a DACA fix attached to must-pass legislation such as a government spending bill, senators said. That’s provoking the more liberal cohort of the Senate Democratic caucus, particularly those eyeing the presidency in 2020, to warn that the GOP will need to deal on immigration in a year-end bill — or Republicans won’t get their votes.
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) declared in a news conference last week that she wouldn’t vote for a spending package if the future of DACA was not resolved by then.
Hours after the White House meeting concluded Thursday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) made a similar vow. And Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) followed suit on Friday.
“Trump must make good on his promise to sign a bill protecting Dreamers,” tweeted Sanders, who ran for the Democratic presidential nomination. “I won’t vote for any spending bill without a permanent DACA fix.”
And Sen. Cory Booker said in a statement to POLITICO on Friday that the New Jersey Democrat will also not support a year-end spending bill if it wasn’t paired with relief for Dreamers, saying Trump’s move to end DACA has caused “chaos and uncertainty” for hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants.
“These are hardworking young people who were brought to this country as kids by their parents — they don’t know any other home but the United States,” Booker said. “I want solutions to protect these kids, and won’t vote for a spending bill that doesn’t include one.”
The threats from the Senate Democrats’ progressive wing has yet to fully trickle down to the broader caucus.
But the latest posturing from liberals heightens the prospects of a shutdown standoff in December, as Republicans almost always need a not-insignificant swath of Democratic votes to keep the federal government running.
Democratic leaders clearly recognize the leverage they hold in the spending fight, yet some senior Senate Democrats have been careful not to make explicit threats of a funding showdown as Republicans work quietly to hammer out a potential DACA deal that can pick up conservative support and Democratic votes.
GOP leaders say they won’t simply pass legislation granting Dreamers legal status; it needs to be married with various border security and enforcement measures, as well as some curbs on legal immigration, for it to clear the Republican-controlled Congress, they say.
And other liberal Democratic senators haven’t been as quick to promise they would use their vote in favor of a spending bill as leverage.
“Sen. Gillibrand thinks it’s inhumane to allow the future of our DACA kids to twist uncertainly in the wind,” a spokeswoman for Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said. “She doesn’t think we should wait until the end of the year to pass a clean DACA bill.”
In an interview last week, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said “I might” vote against a funding bill if the fate of DACA remained unresolved.
“I don’t know how I’d sleep at night if I didn’t do everything possible to protect these kids,” said Murphy, another senator mentioned in 2020 presidential chatter. But he acknowledged that shutdown threats could also hold some political risk for Democrats.
“I think the danger of Democrats starting to say they won’t vote for the spending bill if DACA isn’t attached is that it relieves Republicans of responsibility,” Murphy said. “And Republicans are going to pay the moral and political price if these kids end up getting kicked out of the country.”