Pelosi hints Dems will play hardball to protect Dreamers

Greg Nash

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Monday wouldn’t rule out withholding support for end-of-the-year budget bills — and risk a government shutdown — if President Trump and the Republicans don’t agree to protections for immigrants brought to the country illegally as children.

“We have to do it before Christmas, that’s just the way it is,” she said Monday in an interview with The Washington Post.

Yet Pelosi acknowledged that the Democrats’ strategy is far from decided, and there are internal disagreements about the wisdom of showing their hand months ahead of December’s budget fight. 

“We’re not at that place yet,” she said. “Right now, we’re trying to get Republicans to vote on what we believe.”

President Trump last month sparked a scramble to safeguard the so-called “Dreamers” when he rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, an Obama-era initiative providing work permits to hundreds of thousands of people brought to the United States illegally as children.

Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) met with Trump last month over dinner, where they agreed to the contours of a compromise that would couple protections for DACA beneficiaries with a series of border security enhancements acceptable to the Democrats. Schumer and Pelosi made clear they would reject any package that included new funding to expand Trump’s promised border wall.

But that agreement appeared threatened over the weekend after the White House released a series of immigration proposals the administration is demanding as part of any DACA fix. The list features a number of measures championed by tough-enforcement voices of the far right, including provisions to hire an additional 10,000 immigration agents; expedite deportation of those seeking asylum; withhold federal funding from cities that shield immigrants in the country illegally from federal law enforcers; and construct a physical wall along the U.S.-Mexico border — the most prominent plank of Trump’s successful presidential campaign.

The proposals were cheered by conservative Republicans, who argued the changes will protect both American jobs and public safety after years of what they deemed lax enforcement under former President Obama. But Democrats lashed out at the administration, accusing White House hard-liners of trying to scuttle a DACA deal before it can ever gain steam. And Pelosi on Monday said the administration’s principles are “un-American,” dismissing them out of hand.

“There’s nothing in it to negotiate because it does not have shared values of who we are as Americans,” she told the Post.

The Democrats have launched a discharge petition that would force a floor vote on the Dream Act, a proposal shielding more than 1 million immigrations in the U.S. illegally from deportation while creating an eventual pathway to citizenship. But the effort will almost certainly fail to attract the 218 signatures needed to compel a vote, and most observers predict the issue won’t be considered until December, when government funding expires. 

Many Democrats want to attach the Dream Act to that must-pass budget package, warning that they won’t support the legislation otherwise. It’s a scenario Pelosi declined to rule out this week.

“I fully intend to use every possibility” to protect the Dreamers, she told the Post. 

Pelosi took a good deal of heat last month from members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus after she united with Trump on a budget package that excluded any Dreamer protections. Caucus leaders are already upping the pressure to ensure history doesn’t repeat.

“We’re going to use every leverage point we have at our disposal to protect theses Dreamers,” Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-N.M), head of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said on a press call Monday.

In rescinding DACA, Trump gave Congress until March 5 to come up with a legislative fix protecting enrollees from deportation. But Pelosi’s comments are the latest indication that the Democrats don’t want the issue to linger into 2018. 

The Democrats are also empowered by the simple fact that Trump, despite having rescinded the DACA program, says he supports action to protect the beneficiaries from deportation. Pelosi said she trusts Trump to follow through on that promise, suggesting an ideological divide between the president and the more conservative members of his staff. 

“I do believe the president when he says he wants to protect the Dreamers,” Pelosi said Monday. “I do not think what his staff put forward is in furtherance of that, in fact it’s endangering them.”

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