Dems sour on shutdown tactics

Dems sour on shutdown tactics
© Greg Nash

Senate Democrats say there’s no appetite in their caucus for forcing another government shutdown if Republicans refuse to agree to an immigration deal by a March 5 deadline.

Democratic senators who are mulling presidential bids in 2020 haven’t yet entirely backed away from shutdown threats, which could help them rev up support among the party base, but other Democrats have soured on it as a tactic.

Senate Democratic Whip Dick DurbinDick DurbinAmazon blocks 10B listings in crackdown on counterfeits DOJ faces big decision on home confinement America's Jewish communities are under attack — Here are 3 things Congress can do MORE (Ill.), who vowed last week to vote against any spending bill that didn’t help young immigrants facing deportation, on Tuesday waved away talk of another shutdown if the immigration talks promised by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellManchin, Biden huddle amid talk of breaking up T package Romney: Removing Cheney from House leadership will cost GOP election votes The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden reverses Trump limits on transgender protections MORE (R-Ky.) stall next month.

“We’re not talking in those terms. We’re talking in positive terms,” Durbin said. “Moving forward with the promised procedure from Sen. McConnell.”


Asked about the prospect of Democrats blocking a funding bill again to pressure Republicans to agree to an immigration deal, Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterAmericans for Prosperity launches campaign targeting six Democrats to oppose ending filibuster Overnight Defense: Gillibrand makes new push for military sexual assault reform | US troops begin leaving Afghanistan | Biden budget delay pushes back annual defense policy bill Gillibrand makes new push for military sexual assault reform MORE (D-Mont.) said, “I wouldn’t anticipate that would be the case at all.”


A third Democratic senator said, “My instinct is a shutdown is off the table.”

“Shutdowns don’t work,” the lawmaker added.

Democrats didn’t come away entirely empty-handed from the three-day shutdown that furloughed hundreds of thousands of government workers.

They extracted a promise from McConnell to debate immigration legislation on a “level playing field” if leaders don’t reach a deal to protect “Dreamers” from deportation by Feb. 8. 

Dreamers — certain immigrants who came to the country as minors — now face deportation because President TrumpDonald TrumpCaitlyn Jenner says election was not 'stolen,' calls Biden 'our president' Overnight Health Care: FDA authorizes Pfizer vaccine for adolescents | Biden administration reverses limits on LGBTQ health protections Overnight Defense: US fires 30 warning shots at Iranian boats | Kabul attack heightens fears of Afghan women's fates | Democratic Party leaders push Biden on rejoining Iran deal MORE rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in September. The president gave Congress a March 5 deadline to replace the program.

Democrats already see troubling signs that Senate Republicans may insist on big concessions in return for allowing an immigration bill to pass next month.

They’re also worried about whether a Senate-passed bill has any chance of passing the House.

House Majority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseTop female GOP senator compares Cheney ousting to 'cancel culture' McCarthy schedules vote to oust Cheney for Wednesday Trump amplifies attacks on Cheney ahead of key vote MORE (R-La.) told reporters Monday that his chamber was not bound to approve a bipartisan Senate compromise.

And Democrats view Trump as a wild card.

He told a group of lawmakers at the White House on Jan. 9 that he would sign whatever compromise they reached, but a few days later blasted a bipartisan Senate deal backed by Durbin and Republican Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamHouse conservatives take aim at Schumer-led bipartisan China bill There will be no new immigration law under Biden, unless he changes course McConnell safe in power, despite Trump's wrath MORE (S.C.) and Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeThe unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her  Cindy McCain: Arizona election audit is 'ludicrous' The Republicans' deep dive into nativism MORE (Ariz.) as “horrible” on border security.

Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerHouse conservatives take aim at Schumer-led bipartisan China bill There will be no new immigration law under Biden, unless he changes course This week: Congressional leaders to meet with Biden amid GOP reckoning MORE (N.Y.) fumed that negotiating with Trump is like “negotiating with Jell-O.”

Given what they see as the reluctance of the White House and House Republicans to approve an immigration bill, some Democrats are now counseling their colleagues to readjust their expectations.

“We shouldn’t be overeager to get a deal, especially if [Sen.] Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonTim Scott sparks buzz in crowded field of White House hopefuls Opposition to refugees echoes one of America's most shameful moments White House defends CDC outreach to teachers union MORE [R-Ark.] plays games and insists on an annual decrease in legal immigration to offset the Dreamers,” said the Democratic senator who requested anonymity to discuss party tactics. “We shouldn’t be afraid to walk away and let Republicans own this.”

A Democratic aide said that sentiment is “current with the thinking in the caucus.”

Democrats, however, say they could still block spending bills over poison-pill riders, such as language defunding Planned Parenthood, rolling back Wall Street regulations or gutting environmental rules.

Senate Democrats with White House aspirations don’t want to rule out any tools to pressure Republicans to agree to an immigration deal, including another possible shutdown.

“I don’t want to say anything is out of bounds,” said Sen. Cory BookerCory BookerIn honor of Mother's Day, lawmakers should pass the Momnibus Act Bush testifies before Congress about racist treatment Black birthing people face during childbirth, pregnancy Tim Scott sparks buzz in crowded field of White House hopefuls MORE (D-N.J.), a potential 2020 contender.

Aside from that small group, there’s growing sentiment among Senate Democrats that they exposed themselves politically by blocking a four-week spending bill on Friday because it didn’t help Dreamers.

Republicans attacked Democrats running for reelection in states that voted for Trump, such as Sen. Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyA historic moment to truly honor mothers Democrats face big headaches on Biden's T spending plan The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - GOP makes infrastructure play; Senate passes Asian hate crimes bill MORE Jr. (D-Pa.), as soft on illegal immigration.

“Sen. Casey cannot deny the fact that he has chosen to protect 4,900 illegal immigrants in Pennsylvania over 342,000 children who rely on the CHIP program for health insurance,” said Rep. Lou BarlettaLouis (Lou) James BarlettaFormer Trump officials eye bids for political office 10 bellwether counties that could signal where the election is headed Bottom Line MORE (R-Pa.), who is running for Casey’s seat.

A group of Democratic senators think that hardball tactics are unlikely to do much to pressure a critical number of Republicans to agree to an immigration compromise.

They note that stopping the deportation of tens of thousands of Dreamers is not solely a Democratic priority, but also a problem that Republicans have a political incentive to solve.

They believe Trump and Republican lawmakers will begin paying a political price as soon as television outlets start airing clips of families broken up because of deportations.

A Hart Research Associates poll released last week showed that 73 percent of voters in 12 Senate battleground states have a favorable view of Dreamers.

Democrats say Trump created the crisis facing Dreamers by rescinding DACA in September and made it worse by refusing to negotiate ahead of the shutdown.

They point out that Republicans control both branches of Congress and the White House and there’s only so much they can do to address the problem in the minority.

That means Democrats are ready to take the issue to voters in November instead of forcing another spending shutoff that closes the government.

Asked about the possibility of another government shutdown if Congress fails to send an immigration bill to Trump’s desk by March 5, Sen. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenKabul attack spurs fears over fate of Afghan women as US exits Bowser on Manchin's DC statehood stance: He's 'not right' If Taliban regains power, they would roll back rights for women: US intelligence MORE (D-N.H.) said, “Boy, I hope not.”

“We need to get a long-term budget,” she added.

“I think that hopefully we’ll avoid it,” Sen. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampEffective and profitable climate solutions are within the nation's farms and forests Bill Maher blasts removal of journalist at Teen Vogue Centrist Democrats pose major problem for progressives MORE (D-N.D.) said of another shutdown.