Senate Democrats are taking a harder line on backing a short-term funding measure that does not protect immigrants known as “Dreamers” from deportation.
Days before a possible government shutdown, four of the 17 Democratic senators who backed a stopgap spending measure in December that also failed to address the immigration issue — Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichOvernight Equilibrium/Sustainability — Presented by Schneider Electric — Deadly Ida floodwaters grip southeast US David Sirota: Seven Democrats who voted against fracking ban trying to secure future elections Deadly extreme heat has arrived: here's how policymakers can save lives MORE and Tom UdallTom UdallOvernight Defense: Milley reportedly warned Trump against Iran strikes | Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer killed in Afghanistan | 70 percent of active-duty military at least partially vaccinated Biden nominates former Sen. Tom Udall as New Zealand ambassador Senate Democrats befuddled by Joe Manchin MORE of New Mexico, Pat Leahy of Vermont and Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by AT&T - US speeds evacuations as thousands of Americans remain in Afghanistan Biden finds few Capitol Hill allies amid Afghanistan backlash Trains matter to America MORE of Delaware — said they would not back the stopgap House Republicans hope to send to the Senate as early as Thursday.
Democratic leaders in the Senate also took a harder line with their rhetoric, stopping short of promising an all-out effort to oppose the bill but sending a clear signal that success in the upper chamber is not guaranteed if Republicans clear legislation through the House.
Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerBiden touts 'progress' during 'candid' meetings on .5T plan Progressives push for fossil subsidy repeal in spending bill Louisiana delegation split over debt hike bill with disaster aid MORE (D-N.Y.) told reporters Wednesday that “the revulsion towards that bill was broad and strong” within his caucus.
He also said he didn’t believe voters would blame Democrats for a shutdown given GOP control of Congress and the White House.
“We Democrats believe that we want to do everything we can to avoid a shutdown,” he said. “But we Democrats believe that if there is one it will fall on the Republicans’ backs, plain and simple.”
Schumer also criticized Republicans for keeping Democrats out of talks on avoiding a shutdown when the GOP will need their votes in the Senate.
“It is the intransigence, frankly, of so many who say ‘don’t talk, don’t negotiate, just do it our way or no way’ that has led to gridlock,” Schumer fumed on the Senate floor.
Schumer and other Democratic leaders face competing pressure ahead of a possible vote before Saturday, when the government would shut down without a new funding bill.
A number of Democrats up for reelection in states won by President TrumpDonald TrumpUkraine's president compares UN to 'a retired superhero' Collins to endorse LePage in Maine governor comeback bid Heller won't say if Biden won election MORE in 2016 do not want to shut down the government over immigration and fear their party would face blowback, just as Republicans did for causing a shutdown over ObamaCare repeal in 2013.
At least one Democratic senator argued at a lunch meeting Wednesday that voting against a government funding bill could backfire on the party.
Several Democrats running for reelection in pro-Trump states — Sens. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampWashington's oldest contact sport: Lobbyists scrum to dilute or kill Democrats' tax bill Progressives prepare to launch counterattack in tax fight Business groups aim to divide Democrats on .5T spending bill MORE (N.D.), Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownSenate Democrats seeking information from SPACs, questioning 'misaligned incentives' Senate advances Biden consumer bureau pick after panel logjam Centrist state lawmaker enters Ohio GOP Senate primary MORE (Ohio), Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowGOP warns McConnell won't blink on debt cliff Sanders says spending plan should be .5T 'at the very least' Senators call on Taiwan for aid in automotive chip shortage MORE (Mich.) and Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyRepublicans may regret restricting reproductive rights Sanders traveling to Iowa, Indiana to pitch Biden's spending package Supreme Court battle could wreak havoc with Biden's 2020 agenda MORE (Ind.) — declined to say Wednesday whether they would vote for the stopgap.
Yet leadership also faces pressure from activist groups to take a harder line, particularly after Democrats punted in December.
Pro-immigrant activists flooded Capitol Hill on Wednesday and urged senators to vote against any spending bill that doesn’t fix the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which Trump rescinded in September.
“If it doesn’t include DACA, Trump is basically forcing everybody’s hands to shut down the government,” said Brent Wilkes, CEO of the League of United Latin American Citizens.
Senate Democrats eyeing presidential bids in 2020 say they will not vote for spending bills that don’t shield young immigrants brought to the country illegally as children from deportation.
Even Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterBiden touts 'progress' during 'candid' meetings on .5T plan Manchin: Biden told moderates to pitch price tag for reconciliation bill Democrats say Biden must get more involved in budget fight MORE (D-Mont.), who has a tough election this year in a state Trump won by 20 points, signaled he could vote against the spending stopgap, though he previously waved off threats of a government shutdown as “stupid talk.”
“I think it’s a bad proposal,” he said. “And it has nothing to do with DACA.”
One Democratic senator said Schumer did not appear at Wednesday’s meeting to have made up his mind on whether to whip his colleagues to defeat the House Republican funding stopgap.
Much of the lunch was consumed by the question of how to exert leverage over GOP leaders to gain access to the negotiating table.
It’s not clear whether the House GOP will be able to pass its legislation.
Senate Democratic leaders hope it will fail, but if it manages it squeak through they will then have a tough decision to make.
“They’re going to shut down the government over DACA?” said Senate Republican Whip John CornynJohn CornynDemocrats up ante in risky debt ceiling fight Senate parliamentarian nixes Democrats' immigration plan Democrats make case to Senate parliamentarian for 8 million green cards MORE (Texas). “Are they going to vote against the Children’s Health Insurance Program? I don’t believe it.”
The House-drafted measure extends funding for the popular Children’s Health Insurance Program by six years and delays three unpopular ObamaCare taxes. It also funds the government through Feb. 16.
“If they do I think there’s going to be a heavy price to be paid,” Cornyn added.
Republicans are facing their own problems.
They control 51 seats and at least one Republican colleague, Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden meets with lawmakers amid domestic agenda panic The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - House Democrats plagued by Biden agenda troubles Graham tries to help Trump and McConnell bury the hatchet MORE (S.C.), has said he will vote against the spending bill if it does not include compromise language on immigration.
That means GOP leaders will need at least 10 Democrats to vote for the measure.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOn The Money — Democrats rush to finish off infrastructure Biden employs flurry of meetings to unite warring factions GOP senators say Biden COVID-19 strategy has 'exacerbated vaccine hesitancy' MORE (R-Ky.) debated with Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeBiden nominates former Sen. Tom Udall as New Zealand ambassador Biden to nominate Jane Hartley as UK ambassador: report The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Goldman Sachs - Voting rights will be on '22, '24 ballots MORE (R-Ariz.) at a closed-door Republican lunch Wednesday over whether a bipartisan bill co-sponsored by Flake and Senate Democratic Whip Dick DurbinDick DurbinCOVID-19: US should help Africa, or China will GOP warns McConnell won't blink on debt cliff The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Government shutdown fears increase as leaders dig in MORE (Ill.) should even come up for a vote.
McConnell told his colleagues that he wanted certainty about whether Trump would support the bipartisan immigration deal, which also has the support of Graham and Cory GardnerCory GardnerProtecting the outdoors: Three cheers for America's best idea Ex-Sen. Cory Gardner joins lobbying firm Biden administration reverses Trump changes it says 'undermined' conservation program MORE (R-Colo.), before bringing it to the floor.
Flake argued at the lunch that Trump would likely support it if it garners enough votes to pass Congress, just as he eventually signed the Russia sanctions bill last year after initially opposing it.
McConnell reiterated his point during a press conference with reporters after the lunch.
“As soon as we figure out what he is for then I would be convinced that we were not just spinning our wheels,” he said, referring to Trump’s potential support for an immigration deal.
Trump has sent conflicting signals. He declared at a bipartisan meeting at the White House last week that he would sign whatever Congress sent him to protect Dreamers but on Wednesday panned the Durbin–Flake–Graham immigration plan as “horrible” on border security and “very, very weak” on reforming the legal immigration system.
It also is decidedly unclear whether the GOP measure could pass muster with the House.
There is broad opposition to the plan within the Senate GOP conference as well, but McConnell sees Trump as the most convenient reason to cite for keeping the immigration deal off the floor.
“It’s extraordinary to think an agreement with three Democrats and three Republicans is going to bind the rest of the conference,” Cornyn said of the Durbin–Flake–Graham deal.