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 CabralLawmakers worry about rise of fake video technology Left fears Democrats will give too much on immigration Trump’s border wall becomes flashpoint in shutdown fight 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permanent relief for recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which President Trump rescinded in September.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 DurbinTop Senate Dems demand report from Trump on UK nerve agent attack 'Dreamers' fix blocked in Senate GOP leaders to Trump: Leave Mueller alone MORE (D-Ill.) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamBernie Sanders to Trump: Firing Mueller 'an impeachable offense' The Memo: Lawyer’s exit signals harder line by Trump Senators introduced revised version of election cyber bill 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) SandersCynthia Nixon: 'Sometimes a little naiveté is exactly what is needed' George Clooney writes Parkland students: 'You make me proud of my country again' Lesson from special election: Run on Social Security, Medicare and lower drug prices MORE (I-Vt.) Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisDems ask FTC to probe if other companies also obtained Facebook data Senate approves .3 trillion spending bill, sending to Trump Feinstein, Harris call for probe of ICE after employee resigns MORE (D-Calif.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenWarren battles Carson: Housing discrimination 'the scandal that should get you fired' Overnight Regulation: Omnibus includes deal on tip-pooling rule | Groups sue over rules for organic livestock | AT&T, DOJ make opening arguments in merger trial Warren presses Mulvaney, Azar on tip pooling MORE (D-Mass.) and Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerOvernight Health Care: House passes .3T omnibus | Bill boosts funds for NIH, opioid treatment | Senators spar over ObamaCare fix | 'Right to Try' bill heads to the Senate The Hill's 12:30 Report Booker admits defeat in Capitol snowball fight with Flake 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 RyanYou just can't keep good health policy down Trump blasts Congress for sending him omnibus bill that 'nobody read' Students bash Congress for inaction on gun control 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 HoyerSteyer brings his push to impeach Trump to town halls across the nation Congress may pass background check legislation in funding bill Anti-abortion Dem’s political career on the line in Illinois 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.