Hoyer suggests Dems won’t demand DACA on spending bill
Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) suggested Tuesday that Democrats won’t insist on “Dreamer” protections as part of this month’s omnibus spending bill.
“I think the omnibus needs to be considered on its own merits, and then we ought to move ahead on DACA,” Hoyer told reporters during his weekly press briefing in the Capitol, referring to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
That strategy would mark a shift from last month, when Hoyer, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other Democratic leaders had rejected a bipartisan budget agreement because it was not accompanied by a specific commitment from Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to consider legislation salvaging DACA, which President Trump is trying to wind down. The strategy also runs the risk of angering the immigrant rights activists pressing Democrats to use every tool they’ve got to solidify DACA protections.
Ryan and GOP leaders will need Democratic votes to pass the omnibus due to entrenched opposition from Republican spending hawks — a dynamic Democrats know well.
“The Speaker will not have the votes on his side of the aisle to pass the bill,” Hoyer said. “So he’ll have to expect, and count on, Democratic votes.”
Yet Democrats don’t seem ready to use their leverage to insist on DACA protections as part of the package. Instead, they’re pressuring Ryan to bring a series of separate DACA bills to the floor in back-to-back votes, as Senate GOP leaders had done last month in the upper chamber.
“I’m not going to draw a direct relationship between the two. We want to get DACA done; we want to do what the president said he would do: pass a bill here, he’ll sign it, he’ll take the heat [from] his right wing,” Hoyer said.
Trump, in announcing the end of DACA last fall, had given Congress six months to come up with a legislative replacement to protect Dreamers, hundreds of thousands of immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children. That deadline passed on Monday, leading Hoyer and Democrats to accuse Ryan of reneging on his repeated vows to act.
“Mr. Ryan kept telling me for months and months, ‘Oh, March 5. We have a lot of time,’ ” Hoyer said. “If it were March 5, 2019, apparently these Republicans don’t have enough time to pass substantive legislation.”
While Democrats are placing the blame for inaction squarely on the majority Republicans, some immigrant rights activists have shifted their critical gaze on Democrats. On Monday, a number of Dreamers descended on Capitol Hill to demand legislative protections. As part of the protest, they rallied in front of the Democrats’ campaign headquarters with accusations that party leaders have been “fake allies.”
Congress has until March 23 to pass the omnibus spending bill or large parts of the federal government will shut down. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told the GOP conference Tuesday that he’s eyeing a House vote on the package next week — a timeline Hoyer endorsed.
“I think that would be good,” he said. “[But] it’s possible only if we come to a bipartisan agreement.”
Earlier in the year, Hoyer had been involved in a series of DACA talks with the deputy leaders of each party and chamber, a group that included Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), as well as McCarthy. Since the Senate last month staged a series of failed immigration votes, however, the group has all but disbanded.
“There was no formal way it was banded, if you will, so it certainly hasn’t been formally disbanded. But we haven’t met,” Hoyer said. “In my view, we weren’t making much progress.”
Providing Congress with some breathing room, a federal court in January blocked Trump’s attempt to unwind DACA, effectively allowing the program to continue operating while the court weighs the underlying question of the program’s constitutionality.
House GOP leaders seem to be leaning on that decision as a reason not to stage any DACA votes, at least for the time being. Hoyer noted that the Republicans have a track record of moving quickly on big proposals when they benefit the party’s donors.
“But DACA,” he lamented, “they haven’t been able to move in five months.”