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 DurbinDemocrats pledge to fight Trump detention policy during trip to border Dems open to killing filibuster in next Congress Democrats warm to idea of studying reparations 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 Morning Report — Mueller Time: Dems, GOP ready questions for high-stakes testimony Election security to take back seat at Mueller hearing McConnell challenger faces tougher path after rocky launch 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) TesterPoll: McConnell is most unpopular senator Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand The Hill's 12:30 Report: Pelosi looks to squash fight with progressives 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 TrumpChelsea Clinton announces birth of third child Ukrainian officials and Giuliani are sharing back-channel campaign information: report Trump attacks 'the Squad' as 'racist group of troublemakers' 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 ScaliseThe Memo: Fears of violence grow amid Trump race storm Democrats call for increased security after 'send her back' chants Democratic strategist on Trump tweets: 'He's feeding this fear and hate' 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 GrahamThe Hill's Morning Report — Mueller Time: Dems, GOP ready questions for high-stakes testimony Democrats should rise above and unify against Trump's tweets US-Saudi Arabia policy needs a dose of 'realpolitik' MORE (S.C.) and Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeFlake urges Republicans to condemn 'vile and offensive' Trump tweets Flake responds to Trump, Jimmy Carter barbs: 'We need to stop trying to disqualify each other' Jeff Flake responds to Trump's 'greener pastures' dig on former GOP lawmakers MORE (Ariz.) as “horrible” on border security.

Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTrump says he will meet with Schumer 'ASAP' after border visit Dem senator describes 'overcrowded quarters,' 'harsh odor' at border facilities Top Democrats demand security assessment of Trump properties 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 CottonLawmakers introduce bill to block U.S. companies from doing business with Huawei Five things to know about Iran's breaches of the nuclear deal Hillicon Valley: Trump gets pushback after reversing course on Huawei | China installing surveillance apps on visitors' phones | Internet provider Cloudflare suffers outage | Consumer groups look to stop Facebook cryptocurrency 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 BookerTrump tweets, rally chant dominate Sunday shows as president continues attacks Sunday shows - Fallout over Trump tweets Booker: Trump is 'worse than a racist' 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 CaseyDemocrats pledge to fight Trump detention policy during trip to border Democrats grill USDA official on relocation plans that gut research staff Trump's new labor chief alarms Democrats, unions 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 BarlettaHead of Pennsylvania GOP resigns over alleged explicit texts Trump's most memorable insults and nicknames of 2018 GOP trading fancy offices, nice views for life in minority 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 ShaheenPoll: McConnell is most unpopular senator How to reduce Europe's dependence on Russian energy Epstein charges show Congress must act to protect children from abuse 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 HeitkampAl Franken says he 'absolutely' regrets resigning Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand McConnell's Democratic challenger McGrath backtracks on Kavanaugh comments MORE (D-N.D.) said of another shutdown.