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 DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinCongress opens door to fraught immigration talks McConnell: 'Past time' for immigration-border security deal Overnight Defense: Transgender troops rally as ban nears | Trump may call more troops to border | National Guard expects 3M training shortfall from border deployment | Pentagon to find housing for 5,000 migrant children 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 McConnellThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump, Dems prep for Mueller report's release McConnell touts Trump support, Supreme Court fights in reelection video Why Ken Cuccinelli should be Trump's choice for DHS 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) Tester20 Dems demand no more money for ICE agents, Trump wall Overnight Energy: Bipartisan Senate group seeks more funding for carbon capture technology | Dems want documents on Interior pick's lobbying work | Officials push to produce more electric vehicle batteries in US Bipartisan senators want 'highest possible' funding for carbon capture technology 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 John TrumpHouse Dems demand Barr cancel 'inappropriate' press conference on Mueller report DOJ plans to release 'lightly redacted' version of Mueller report Thursday: WaPo Nadler accuses Barr of 'unprecedented steps' to 'spin' Mueller report 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 ScaliseGOP to launch discharge petition on anti-BDS measure This week: Democrats revive net neutrality fight The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Kidney Care Partners — Biden says he's 'not sorry' for past actions 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 GrahamWhy Ken Cuccinelli should be Trump's choice for DHS Ten post-Mueller questions that could turn the tables on Russia collusion investigators GOP senators double down on demand for Clinton email probe documents MORE (S.C.) and Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakePollster says Trump unlikely to face 'significant' primary challenge Trump gives nod to vulnerable GOP Sen. McSally with bill signing Flake opens up about threats against him and his family MORE (Ariz.) as “horrible” on border security.

Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerSchumer slams Justice Dept over 'pre-damage control' on Mueller report Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — Sanders welcomes fight with Trump over 'Medicare for all' | DOJ attorney in ObamaCare case leaving | NYC mayor defends vaccination mandate | Ohio gov signs 'heartbeat' abortion bill Dems see room for Abrams in crowded presidential field 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 CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonOvernight Defense: Senators show skepticism over Space Force | Navy drops charges against officers in deadly collision | Trump taps next Navy chief Senators show deep skepticism on Space Force proposal GOP senators introduce bill to reduce legal immigration  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 Anthony BookerHillicon Valley: Washington preps for Mueller report | Barr to hold Thursday presser | Lawmakers dive into AI ethics | FCC chair moves to block China Mobile | Dem bill targets 'digital divide' | Microsoft denies request for facial recognition tech Booker calls for sweeping voting rights reforms 20 Dems demand no more money for ICE agents, Trump wall 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 CaseyLicense to discriminate: Religious exemption laws are trampling rights in rural America More than 30 Senate Dems ask Trump to reconsider Central American aid cuts Endorsements? Biden can't count on a flood from the Senate 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 BarlettaTrump's most memorable insults and nicknames of 2018 GOP trading fancy offices, nice views for life in minority Casey secures third Senate term over Trump-backed Barletta 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 Shaheen Embattled senators fill coffers ahead of 2020 William Barr is right to investigate FBI actions during 2016 campaign Trolling of Bill Barr shows how language is twisted to politics 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 HeitkampPro-trade groups enlist another ex-Dem lawmaker to push for Trump's NAFTA replacement Pro-trade group targets 4 lawmakers in push for new NAFTA Biden office highlights support from women after second accuser comes forward MORE (D-N.D.) said of another shutdown.