Schumer walks tightrope on shutdown, immigration fights

The threat of a government shutdown has put Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerDem senator describes 'overcrowded quarters,' 'harsh odor' at border facilities Top Democrats demand security assessment of Trump properties Lawmakers pay tribute to late Justice Stevens MORE (N.Y.) in a tricky political situation.

Schumer has kept his caucus unified against President TrumpDonald John TrumpLiz Cheney: 'Send her back' chant 'inappropriate' but not about race, gender Booker: Trump is 'worse than a racist' Top Democrat insists country hasn't moved on from Mueller MORE’s major legislative drives on ObamaCare and tax reform, but he faces a more divided group of Democrats when it comes to protecting young immigrants who could face deportation next year.

The internal debate has more to do with legislative strategy than the underlining issue.

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Democrats generally back a legislative fix that would allow so-called Dreamers brought to the United States illegally as children to remain in the country.

 

But Democrats facing reelection next year in states that voted for Trump don’t want to risk a shutdown over the issue.

“I still don’t think government shutdown is a good thing,” said Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterPoll: McConnell is most unpopular senator Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand The Hill's 12:30 Report: Pelosi looks to squash fight with progressives MORE (D-Mont.), who has a tough reelection next year.

He urged Schumer to “do the right thing” by working on a solution to protect Dreamers, fund the government and set aside money for wildfires.

In other words, keep the conversation going instead of shutting down the process with an ultimatum.

Other Democrats are taking a harder line on the issue — and are open to using a shutdown fight as leverage to help the Dreamers.

This group includes most of the large class of Senate Democrats thought to be considering presidential runs in 2020.

Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisHarris faces pressure to define policy proposals Harris voices support for Puerto Rico protesters: 'I stand with them' What to expect when Mueller testifies: Not much MORE (D-Calif.) on Tuesday reiterated her position that she would not vote for a spending bill that did not protect the Dreamers.

“Any bill that funds the government must also include a fix for DACA,” she said.

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBullock: I would not have endorsed health care for undocumented immigrants on debate stage Harris faces pressure to define policy proposals Biden campaign rips 'Medicare for All,' calls on Dems to protect Affordable Care Act MORE (I-Vt.), another White House hopeful, tweeted last month that, “I won’t vote for any spending bill without a permanent DACA fix.”

Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerBooker: Trump is 'worse than a racist' Cory Booker talks about 'geeking out' over Rosario Dawson's Marvel role Harris faces pressure to define policy proposals MORE (D-N.J.) took the same tough line, declaring last month, “I want solutions to protect these kids, and won’t vote for a spending bill that doesn’t include one.”

He called it an issue “of basic decency and morality.”

Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenHarris faces pressure to define policy proposals Harris voices support for Puerto Rico protesters: 'I stand with them' Democrats slam Puerto Rico governor over 'shameful' comments, back protesters MORE (D-Mass.) has put herself in the same camp by signaling it would be tough to back a spending bill this year that does not protect the young immigrants covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which Trump in September said he would unwind.

She urged Trump last month to “stop playing politics [and] fix this.”

Democrats looking ahead to the 2020 presidential primary know they will have to be able to rally the party’s base to be successful, and Hispanic voters are an important and growing constituency.

Thousands of protesters staged a rally outside the Capitol Wednesday to demand that lawmakers pass legislation to protect the estimated 750,000 to 800,000 Dreamers from deportation.

It was reminiscent of the massive rally that liberal activists held outside Schumer’s apartment in New York City earlier this year to pressure him to oppose Trump’s Cabinet and Supreme Court nominees.

But for centrists, the fight over immigration isn’t worth shutting down the government, or even risking it.

Chris Kofinis, a Democratic strategist and former aide to centrist Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinPoll: McConnell is most unpopular senator Dems open to killing filibuster in next Congress Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand MORE (D-W.Va.), said immigration doesn’t rate as highly as the economy, health care and national security in red-leaning states.

Schumer on Tuesday downplayed the likelihood of a shutdown by telling reporters, “We don’t think we’re going to get to that.”

And while he has given White House hopefuls in his caucus leeway to talk tough on immigration, behind the scenes sources say he has told nervous colleagues that it’s off the table.

“The Democratic leaders who are negotiating aren’t talking about shutdown,” said one Democratic senator.

Still, immigrant rights advocates are ramping up pressure on Democrats to take a tough stand.

“There are divisions among Democrats on how to handle the issue. There are some people who are willing to risk a shutdown to address the immigration issue, whereas others who come from centrist states wonder how that’s going to play politically and whether it would come back to harm them,” said Darrell West, director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution.

Schumer fueled speculation of a possible shutdown over immigration when he and House Democratic Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiDemocrats should rise above and unify against Trump's tweets 10 questions for Robert Mueller Ocasio-Cortez tears into Trump's immigration agenda: 'It's about ethnicity and racism' MORE (Calif.) skipped a meeting at the White House last week, where leaders were supposed to discuss spending levels with Trump.

Schumer and Pelosi canceled after Trump tweeted they “want illegal immigrants flooding into our country unchecked.”

That brinkmanship sparked alarm among some Senate Democrats facing challenging races next year.

Centrist Democrats in tough races next year were frustrated that talks between Republicans and Democrats completely broke down during the tax debate — something they blame on GOP leaders for failing to reach out to them in a serious way.

“It’s been one-party rule and that’s baloney, by the way, and not how the system should work,” Tester said. “Keep the discussions going.”