The Democrats’ leading liberal voice on immigration reform is pouring effusive praise on House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi says House members would not vote on spending bill topline higher than Senate's McConnell privately urged GOP senators to oppose debt ceiling hike On The Money — Dems dare GOP to vote for shutdown, default MORE (D-Calif.) for her marathon floor speech demanding a vote to protect young undocumented immigrants — with a big asterisk.
Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) warned that if Pelosi and Democratic leaders don’t push aggressively for rank-and-file members to oppose a sweeping budget deal without a commitment on immigration in a vote expected Thursday, they’ll be “colluding” with Republicans to allow those immigrants to be deported.
“I’m thankful to her for giving that speech, I applaud her for giving the speech, and now tomorrow I want her to use the same kind of tenacity and muscle and perseverance to stop the Democrats from folding,” Gutiérrez told reporters Wednesday evening in the Capitol. “Because what you have is collusion — whether or not the Intelligence Committee agrees — between a group of Democrats and Donald Trump that will lead to the deportation of Dreamers.”
Democratic leaders appear to be rallying behind Pelosi in their opposition to the budget package without firmer assurances that immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children, often called "Dreamers," will be protected, but they’ve stopped short of saying they’ll whip their members against the bill. And there are early indications that they won’t do so.
“People in our caucus will do what’s in the best interest of their constituency and of the country. That’s what they’re elected to do,” Rep. Joseph Crowley (N.Y.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said Wednesday.
In the eyes of many immigrant rights advocates, however, that’s not enough.
Gutiérrez said that while Pelosi's speech was great, party leaders must use more aggressive tools to rally member opposition — carrots and sticks related to committee assignments and campaign cash, for instance — or the Dreamers will never get their vote.
“There’s all kinds of ways, I assure you, that leadership exercises its influence, the least of which are floor speeches,” he said.
Pelosi captivated Capitol Hill on Wednesday when she took to the floor for a “one-minute” speech during a mortgage finance debate, and then spent more than eight hours commandeering the chamber to press Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanPaul Ryan researched narcissistic personality disorder after Trump win: book Paul Ryan says it's 'really clear' Biden won election: 'It was not rigged. It was not stolen' Democrats fret over Trump-district retirements ahead of midterms MORE (R-Wis.) to guarantee a vote on legislation salvaging the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump takes shot at new GOP candidate in Ohio over Cleveland nickname GOP political operatives indicted over illegal campaign contribution from Russian national in 2016 On The Money — Dems dare GOP to vote for shutdown, default MORE is terminating on March 5.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP political operatives indicted over illegal campaign contribution from Russian national in 2016 McConnell privately urged GOP senators to oppose debt ceiling hike On The Money — Dems dare GOP to vote for shutdown, default MORE (R-Ky.), pressured by upper-chamber Democrats, has pledged action on DACA in the near future. But Ryan has stopped short of that commitment, saying that he wants to shore up the sunsetting program, but won’t consider legislation that doesn’t have Trump’s support — a requirement that complicates the congressional debate, since the president has rejected a number of bipartisan DACA bills in recent weeks. One conservative proposal, sponsored by Rep. Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteThe job of shielding journalists is not finished Bottom line No documents? Hoping for legalization? Be wary of Joe Biden MORE (R-Va.), appears to have Trump’s blessing, but it likely lacks the support to pass through the House.
Throughout the months-long debate over government spending, Pelosi has come under fire from immigrant rights activists — including those in her own caucus — who say she’s done too little to leverage her influence to protect the roughly 1.8 million Dreamers.
On Wednesday, she sought to reassure those critics, announcing her opposition to the two-year budget agreement — a deal she was central in negotiating — without some certainty that a House vote on DACA is forthcoming.
“Without that commitment from Speaker Ryan, comparable to the commitment from Leader McConnell, this package does not have my support, nor does it have the support of a large number of members of our caucus,” Pelosi said in her speech.
The budget package will require Democratic support to pass the lower chamber, since dozens of conservatives are expected to oppose the legislation over the increase in both the debt ceiling and spending caps governing nondefense domestic programs.
The package is loaded with provisions favored by the Democrats — including spikes in funding for veterans health facilities, children’s health care, the opioid crisis and disaster relief — and dozens of Democratic lawmakers are expected to back the bill, particularly if party leaders decline to whip hard against it.
Gutiérrez accused Pelosi of sending “mixed messages,” at once demanding an immigration vote from Republicans while sending a tacit signal to Democrats that they’re free to back the budget bill, even without a DACA pledge from the Speaker.
“She indicated that the caps were the new leverage. That has been decoupled,” he said. “Once you do that, you basically said, ‘Vote your will.’”
Pelosi and the Democrats will have at least one more bite at the apple: The budget package due for votes Thursday extends government spending just six weeks, until March 23, and Ryan is expected to need Democratic votes once again on a larger omnibus spending bill when that deadline approaches.
Still, DACA expires weeks before then, and the immigrant rights advocates fear the deportations will follow if some immigration deal isn’t struck beforehand.
“When the deportations begin, anybody that voted for that bargain Thursday also voted to collude with Republicans to lead to the deportation of Dreamers,” Gutiérrez said.
“And they will come for them, if we don’t stop them.”
Updated at 10:37 a.m.