25 Dems vow to block spending without Dream Act

25 Dems vow to block spending without Dream Act
© Greg Nash

House Democrats are escalating their threat to oppose a year-end spending bill unless it includes deportation relief for more than 1 million immigrants brought to the country without legal permission as kids.

A group of 25 House Democrats said Wednesday they won’t vote for any government spending bill, risking a shutdown, unless Congress passes the Dream Act — a measure that would provide permanent residency and a path to citizenship to that group of immigrants.

Reps. Luis Gutiérrez (Ill.), Raul Grijalva (Ariz.) and Adriano EspaillatAdriano de Jesus Espaillat CabralThe nearly 60 Dems who voted for impeachment House rejects Democrat's resolution to impeach Trump Dem plans to force House floor vote on impeaching Trump MORE (N.Y.) penned an op-ed in The Hill Wednesday taking that stance. They shared the text with their Democratic colleagues, 22 of whom decided to endorse the idea, according to Gutiérrez.

“We didn’t lobby, we didn’t do anything,” Gutiérrez said. “Had we tried, we’d have many, many more.”

The Dream Act is Democrats' preferred vehicle to provide permanent relief for recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which President Trump rescinded in September.

Although its House and Senate co-sponsors are bipartisan — Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.) in one chamber and Sens. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinDemocrats turn on Al Franken Minnesota's largest newspaper calls on Franken to resign Democratic senator predicts Franken will resign Thursday MORE (D-Ill.) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGOP and Dems bitterly divided by immigration We are running out of time to protect Dreamers US trade deficit rises on record imports from China MORE (R-S.C.) in the other — the bill has met resistance from Republicans in both chambers.

In the House, the bill’s Democratic supporters have consistently claimed it has enough votes to pass, were it to be brought to a floor votes.

Across the Capitol, Sens. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersSchumer: Franken should resign Franken resignation could upend Minnesota races Avalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign MORE (I-Vt.) Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisDemocrats turn on Al Franken Minnesota's largest newspaper calls on Franken to resign Democratic senator predicts Franken will resign Thursday MORE (D-Calif.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenOvernight Regulation: Net neutrality supporters predict tough court battle | Watchdog to investigate EPA chief's meeting with industry group | Ex-Volkswagen exec gets 7 years for emissions cheating Overnight Tech: Net neutrality supporters predict tough court fight | Warren backs bid to block AT&T, Time Warner merger | NC county refuses to pay ransom to hackers Avalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign MORE (D-Mass.) and Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerGOP and Dems bitterly divided by immigration Dems put hold on McFarland nomination over contradictory testimony: report Corker: McFarland's nomination 'frozen' over contradictions in her testimony MORE (D-N.J.) have also said they'll withhold their votes on any spending bill unless a DACA solution is worked out.

It's likely that the Dream Act, which has 200 co-sponsors and protects a politically sympathetic group of people, could get to 218 votes. But Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees House Republican: 'I worry about both sides' of the aisle on DACA Overnight Health Care: 3.6M signed up for ObamaCare in first month | Ryan pledges 'entitlement reform' next year | Dems push for more money to fight opioids MORE (R-Wis.) promised not to bring any immigration bills to the floor without the support of at least half his conference — what's known as the Hastert Rule.

Still, Ryan will most likely need Democratic votes to avoid a government shutdown come December given likely defections from conservative Republicans.

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), head of the powerful Freedom Caucus, said he doesn't believe all Democrats will follow Gutiérrez's lead.

“I think that we get tax reform and I also think that the year-end spending bill is going to put Democrats in a very difficult situation,” he said.

“You're telling me that they would rather have a shutdown than to actually have increased spending and probably a supplemental on top of that so there's probably going to be funding for Puerto Rico, Texas and Florida, and so they're going to vote against those spending measures so that they can do something for the Dream Act?” he said.

Meadows added that 25 Democrats “aren't enough” to threaten a serious spending fight.

Democrats on Gutiérrez's letter say they’re ready to call the GOP’s bluff.

“If they can do it without us, more power to them,” said Grijalva.

While it's far from certain that all Democrats will risk a government shutdown fight over the Dream Act, the idea is gaining steam.

Espaillat, speaking in Spanish, appealed to Democratic unity in supporting the Dream Act.

“We're telling our Democratic colleagues that this is very important for us. And in the same way that we have the gallantry to, in difficult times, support bills that are important to other groups, this is the moment to support the Dream Act,” Espaillat said.

The bill is the preferred Democratic vehicle for DACA relief, but caucus leadership has shown openness to other measures, as long as they protect the 690,000 DACA recipients and don't provide funding for a border wall, interior immigration enforcement or increased immigration detention centers.

Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) Chairwoman Rep. Michelle Luján Grisham (D-N.M.) have said they'd rather see passage of the Dream Act as a stand-alone bill, but have been careful not to close the door on using the party's budget leverage to push DACA.

Still, Democratic leaders are approaching talk of a shutdown with caution.

Rep. Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerThe nearly 60 Dems who voted for impeachment House rejects Democrat's resolution to impeach Trump Pelosi, Hoyer: Now is not the time to consider impeachment MORE (Md.), the Democratic whip, declined to say whether leaders would insist on DACA as a condition of Democratic support for the spending bill. 

“I don't want to get there … at this point in time,” he said Tuesday. “And I am not going to get there because you keep asking me the question. I want to get DACA done.” 

But the letter's co-signers say they're confident they'll get enough Democrats to adopt their pledge to make a Dream Act or government shutdown choice a reality.

“We’re 25 that signed the letter but I think we’re representative of a large view in the Democratic Caucus,” said Gutierrez.

Mike Lillis contributed.