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Itching for a fight, Dems vow to hold the line

The January battle to keep the government open is the fight Democrats have been itching for.

On three occasions in recent months, Democrats punted on some of their top priorities as the GOP passed short-term funding bills — a strategy that outraged liberals eager for confrontation on issues like immigration and health care.

But with yet another spending deadline approaching on Jan. 19, Democrats say the time has come to hold the line. 

In a Tuesday letter to her troops, House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiPelosi meets with Parkland students and parents, says gun control would be atop Dems’ agenda The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Health care a top policy message in fall campaigns Election Countdown: O'Rourke goes on the attack | Takeaways from fiery second Texas Senate debate | Heitkamp apologizes for ad misidentifying abuse victims | Trump Jr. to rally for Manchin challenger | Rick Scott leaves trail to deal with hurricane damage MORE (D-Calif.) laid out the party’s top priorities heading into the fight. The Democrats will “insist” on parity between defense and nondefense spending hikes, Pelosi wrote, while pressing “firmly” to protect the young immigrants affected by President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Guardian slams Trump over comments about assault on reporter Five takeaways from the first North Dakota Senate debate Watchdog org: Tillerson used million in taxpayer funds to fly throughout US MORE’s move to dismantle the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. 

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Pelosi also promised a tough fight over new funding for veterans, pensions, the opioid crisis, health research, disaster aid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

“Democrats are focused on fulfilling the many long-overdue, bipartisan priorities facing the American people,” she said.

Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Health care a top policy message in fall campaigns McConnell says deficits 'not a Republican problem' Medicare for All is disastrous for American seniors and taxpayers MORE (D-N.Y.) will press their case on Wednesday, when they huddle in the Capitol with Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanThe Memo: Saudi storm darkens for Trump The Hill's 12:30 Report — Mnuchin won't attend Saudi conference | Pompeo advises giving Saudis 'few more days' to investigate | Trump threatens military action over caravan The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Health care a top policy message in fall campaigns MORE (R-Wis.), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Health Care — Presented by Purdue Pharma — Trump says GOP will support pre-existing condition protections | McConnell defends ObamaCare lawsuit | Dems raise new questions for HHS on child separations Poll finds Dems prioritize health care, GOP picks lower taxes when it's time to vote The Hill's 12:30 Report — Mnuchin won't attend Saudi conference | Pompeo advises giving Saudis 'few more days' to investigate | Trump threatens military action over caravan MORE (R-Ky.) and two leading White House officials: Mick MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyOn The Money: Mnuchin pulls out of Saudi summit | Consumer bureau to probe controversial blog posts on race | Harris proposes new middle-class tax credit Consumer bureau to probe top Trump official's past racial comments On The Money: Deficit hits six-year high of 9 billion | Yellen says Trump attacks threaten Fed | Affordable housing set for spotlight in 2020 race MORE, Trump’s budget director, and Marc Short, the head of legislative affairs.

Organized by Ryan, the meeting is designed to secure an agreement on the budget caps that will govern the underlying spending debate — a months-long negotiation that’s failed thus far to bear fruit.

But while the Republicans may intend to keep the discussion limited to the question of spending caps, the Democrats have much broader issues in mind.

“Them trying to outline what the meeting is about or not about is not particularly helpful,” said a senior Democratic aide.

The Democrats have plenty of leverage. Not only do they have the power to block bills with a Senate filibuster, but Ryan and House GOP leaders have struggled in recent years to secure even a simple majority for budget bills due to opposition from fiscal hawks in their own party.

“They can’t pass it by themselves,” said the Democratic aide.

The GOP’s need for Democratic votes puts a good deal of pressure on Republican leaders — fresh from a huge victory on tax reform — to forge a strategy that keeps the government running without igniting a full-on revolt from their party’s base.

Complicating their task, the House has only eight legislative days scheduled before funding runs out, and the wave of expiring provisions represents some of the most divisive issues within the GOP, including a law empowering the government to wiretap foreign targets without a warrant.

The immigration issue could prove particularly thorny. Ryan has long insisted that any DACA fix be dealt with outside the spending debate — a notion backed by Trump and other GOP lawmakers pressing for tougher enforcement measures, including a border wall.

But with conservatives expected to oppose the funding omnibus over spending concerns, Democrats will likely have an opportunity to insist on a DACA fix weeks before the program’s March 5 sunset deadline.

They’re facing plenty of pressure from their own side to do just that.

Democratic leaders resisted entreaties to force a battle over DACA in the three continuing resolutions (CR) Congress has passed since September, when Trump announced the end of the program. Most recently, Schumer declined to filibuster a Dec. 21 CR that did not include a  DACA fix, even after House Hispanic lawmakers marched to his Capitol office to press their case. Pelosi, powerless to block that spending bill because Ryan rallied the votes on his own, has said the fight was always dependent on the timing of the omnibus.

“They kicked the can for the omnibus into January. It’s this year, extended,” she said just before the holiday break.

That argument hasn’t soothed many immigrant rights activists, however, who are warning that the Democrats risk losing support in the Hispanic community if they don’t use their leverage more aggressively.

On Wednesday, immigrant rights advocates — joined by celebrities including Alyssa Milano and America Ferrera — will rally at the Los Angeles office of Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinFeinstein would 'absolutely' reopen Kavanaugh investigation if Dems win Senate Feinstein’s Dem challenger: 'It’s time that we stop biding our time and biting our tongue' The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Health care a top policy message in fall campaigns MORE (D-Calif.) to deliver an unsubtle message to the Democrats: deliver for the “Dreamers,” or pay a heavy price.

“DREAM Act or primaries,” Ady Barkan, a spokesman from the activist group CPD Action, said Tuesday. “We need Democrats to deliver on their promise to pass a DREAM Act now or we will put our full weight behind primary challengers who are ready to protect our communities.”

Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.), one of Capitol Hill’s most vocal immigrant rights advocates, is sounding a similar alarm.

“With new people becoming deportable every day, House and Senate leaders in both parties should not underestimate the urgency and the passion behind getting the DREAM Act passed right away,” Gutiérrez told The Hill Tuesday. “Our base wants us to fight for what is right — to take a stand against the bigotry and callousness coming from the White House.

“It’s backbone time for Democrats.”