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 CabralHouse GOP reverses, cancels vote on Dem bill to abolish ICE This week: GOP mulls vote on ‘abolish ICE’ legislation Eric Holder: Calls to abolish ICE are 'a gift to Republicans' 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permanent relief for recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which President Trump rescinded in September.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 DurbinSenate Dems press for info on any deals from Trump-Putin meeting Too many Americans go to prison but Congress can fix this problem This week: GOP mulls vote on ‘abolish ICE’ legislation MORE (D-Ill.) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamKelly lobbied Republicans to rebuke Trump after Putin press conference: report Senate weighs new Russia response amid Trump backlash Trump stuns the world at Putin summit 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) SandersMellman: (Mis)interpreting elections Dems to propose legislation to prevent ICE from shackling pregnant women Rasmussen poll: Nearly three-quarters of Dems want 'fresh face' as nominee in 2020 MORE (I-Vt.) Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisDems to propose legislation to prevent ICE from shackling pregnant women Rasmussen poll: Nearly three-quarters of Dems want 'fresh face' as nominee in 2020 Kamala Harris lands book deal MORE (D-Calif.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenSenate Dems protest vote on controversial court pick Dems call for hearings on Trump’s CFPB nominee to be put on hold Dems to propose legislation to prevent ICE from shackling pregnant women MORE (D-Mass.) and Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerDems to propose legislation to prevent ICE from shackling pregnant women Senate adds members to pro-NATO group Booker: Trump's national security officials face 'serious' choice after Putin summit 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 RyanSenate Dems build huge cash edge in battlegrounds Kelly lobbied Republicans to rebuke Trump after Putin press conference: report Lobbying world 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 HoyerLinda Sanchez announces bid for Crowley’s spot atop Dem Caucus Hoyer: Trump committed 'treason' in Helsinki Pelosi wants party leadership elections post-Thanksgiving 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.