Schumer comes under fire over funding deal
Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.) is coming under criticism from his own party in the aftermath of a fight that shut down the government for three days and left Democrats with little to show for it.
Some of Schumer’s Democratic colleagues are questioning the wisdom of getting into a three-day standoff with Republicans over a stopgap spending bill and then backing down after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) offered a modest concession.
“We went in with a very weak set of cards, with  people up for reelection,” said one Democratic senator, one of several lawmakers who requested anonymity to assess Schumer’s performance frankly.
All but five Senate Democrats on Friday voted against a monthlong spending bill passed last week by the House that did nothing to protect from deportation undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children.
The vote led to this week’s three-day government shutdown, which ended Monday after McConnell said he would allow a vote on replacing the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program protecting so-called Dreamers from being deported.
Liberal groups were enraged by that decision, arguing Schumer didn’t get enough to back down.
“It’s official: Chuck Schumer is the worst negotiator in Washington — even worse than Trump,” said Murshed Zaheed, political director at Credo, a progressive advocacy group.
Republicans said the concession wasn’t anything that McConnell wasn’t already planning to do.
Another Democratic senator said almost every local news channel he spoke to over the weekend began its interview with the same question: “Why did Democrats shut down the government?”
A third Democratic senator said it was an unwinnable battle from the start because the GOP funding measures included a six-year extension of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), a top Democratic priority.
“You can’t win. McConnell used craven politics by pitting one group of children versus another,” the third lawmaker said.
The first lawmaker noted that Democrats up for reelection next year in states won by President Trump, including North Dakota, West Virginia and Indiana, are coming under attack from an ad launched by Trump’s reelection campaign.
It warned that “Democrats who stand in our way will be complicit in every murder committed by illegal immigrants.”
“We had people take a very tough stand in states that don’t have a lot of Dreamers and have a lot of kids on CHIP,” the senator said. “They were already being attacked with this very vicious set of ads that reminds me of the Willie Horton ads of yesteryear.”
Schumer never appeared to be itching for a fight over government funding and immigration that could risk a shutdown. In fact, the Democratic leader appeared more aligned with Democrats facing tough reelections who said they wanted to keep the government open.
The shutdown battle became portrayed in the media as Democrats taking a stand for Dreamers facing deportation, but Democratic senators say that was only a small part of it.
They felt they had to object to the monthlong spending bill House Republicans unveiled early last week because it had no input from Democrats.
Democrats felt the lack of consultation — and the failure to address their non-immigration priorities — was so insulting that they had to take a stand. Even Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), who earlier dismissed threats of a shutdown as “stupid talk,” felt he had to vote against the monthlong stopgap because it ignored community health centers and hospitals that participate in the 340B Drug Pricing Program, one of his pet priorities.
But things didn’t play out as Democrats planned.
For one thing, they thought Republicans would agree to a very short-term continuing resolution, perhaps for a couple of days, to allow the negotiations to continue without shutting the government.
After all, McConnell had said on ABC’s “This Week” in December, “There’s not going to be a government shutdown. It’s just not going to happen.”
As a result, Democrats were surprised when McConnell refused to move up the timing of a vote on the House-passed, monthlong stopgap.
Schumer and his fellow Democrats also thought they could force Trump to the negotiating table with the threat of a shutdown.
Trump seemed amenable to negotiating when he invited a group of Republicans and Democrats to the White House on Jan. 9 and when he invited Schumer alone to the Oval Office Friday.
But surprisingly to Schumer and his Democratic colleagues, his demand for a meeting with Trump after the shutdown started was met with silence.
Schumer acknowledged on the Senate floor Monday morning that he had not spoken to Trump since Friday and the White House had refused to negotiate.
With McConnell and congressional Republicans hunkered down to weather a longer-than-expected shutdown and Trump refusing to negotiate, Senate Democrats felt they had no other choice but to strike a deal — even though it fell short of what they wanted.
Instead of getting Trump to agree to the rough outlines of a deal on immigration and spending caps or getting GOP leaders to commit to attaching an immigration deal to a must-pass bill, they settled for a promise from McConnell to debate an immigration bill next month.
Republicans reveled in what they saw as a definite political win.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) called the shutdown a “massive political blunder” for Democrats, adding that McConnell had not changed his position on bringing an immigration bill to the floor “at the right time.”
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), a moderate, called it a “no-win” situation for the other side.
Several Senate Democrats felt the same way.
A fourth Democratic senator, who requested anonymity, said his colleagues didn’t want to prolong the standoff because they saw it as getting worse and worse.
“There was inexorable trajectory toward, ‘Now my anxiety is officially high, it’s a week later and what are we doing here?’” the lawmaker said.
Other Senate Democrats defended their leader from the internal criticism.
Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) hailed the concessions Schumer won from McConnell as significant.
He said Democrats now have a commitment to debate what he called “a neutral vehicle” for immigration reform at a “date certain.”
“This was a really public commitment, it was specific and it was not just to one member but to the whole body,” Schatz said after voting for the measure Monday.
“He played his hand as well as he could have,” said another Democratic senator.
“We have a commitment to put a bill on the floor, which we didn’t have Friday. That’s important,” the lawmaker added, referring to a promise from McConnell to allow an open immigration debate on the Senate floor after Feb. 8 if leaders failed to reach a deal before then.
In the House, Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) made his criticism public.
He said Schumer and the Senate Democrats “are about to cave” shortly before they took a procedural vote Monday to advance a short-term funding deal.
“I think that’s unfortunate,” he said. “I thought they were going to stand tall and firm.”
Asked why he thinks Schumer had a change of heart, Gutiérrez said, “Because they blink. They just do.”
Several prominent Democrats publicly pronounced themselves disappointed with the deal Schumer accepted to end the shutdown.
“It’s a great disappointment to me and it’s a great disappointment to the more than 300,000 DACA young people in the state of California,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).
“The strategy was to keep it fixed to a must-pass vehicle because there was great worry that the House was not going to pass it,” she said of any immigration legislation that might pass the Senate.
“I’m just very disappointed,” she said.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), who had been in lockstep with Schumer throughout the shutdown, panned the deal.
“I don’t see that there’s any reason — I’m speaking personally and hearing from my members — to support what was put forth,” she told reporters.
Schumer and 32 Democratic colleagues, as well as Sen. Angus King (Vt.), an independent who caucuses with Democrats, voted for the three-week GOP funding measure based on McConnell’s assurances.
But those who didn’t, a group that included most of the Democratic senators seen as stoking presidential bids, said they felt McConnell hadn’t offered enough.
“The Majority Leader’s comments last night fell far short of the ironclad guarantee I needed to support a stopgap spending bill. I refuse to put the lives of nearly 700,000 young people in the hands of someone who has repeatedly gone back on his word,” said Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), a possible candidate for the White House in 2020.
Mike Lillis and Jordain Carney contributed.
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