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 DurbinLet's stop treating student borrowers like second-class citizens Trump's immigration push faces Capitol Hill buzzsaw Hillicon Valley: Trump takes flak for not joining anti-extremism pact | Phone carriers largely end sharing of location data | Huawei pushes back on ban | Florida lawmakers demand to learn counties hacked by Russians | Feds bust 0M cybercrime group 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 McConnellOn The Money: Treasury rejects Dem subpoena for Trump tax returns | Companies warn trade war about to hit consumers | Congress, White House to launch budget talks next week | Trump gets deal to lift steel tariffs on Mexico, Canada Schumer calls on McConnell to hold vote on Equality Act House Dem cites transgender grandson in voting for Equality Act 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) TesterGOP angst grows amid Trump trade war Overnight Defense — Presented by Huntington Ingalls Industries — Pentagon approves transfer of .5B to border wall | Dems blast move | House Dem pushes Pelosi to sue over Trump's Yemen veto Pentagon approves transfer of .5B to Trump border wall from Afghan forces, other accounts 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 TrumpTrump calls for Republicans to be 'united' on abortion Tlaib calls on Amash to join impeachment resolution Facebook temporarily suspended conservative commentator Candace Owens 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 ScaliseTrump encouraged Scalise to run for governor in Louisiana: report We owe a debt of gratitude to all our police officers and their families House votes to extend flood insurance program 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 GrahamTrump: Anonymous news sources are 'bulls---' Trump: 'Good chance' Dems give immigration 'win' after Pelosi called White House plan 'dead on arrival' The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by Pass USMCA Coalition — Trump: GOP has `clear contrast' with Dems on immigration MORE (S.C.) and Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeProtesters who went viral confronting Flake cheered at award event Feinstein to introduce bill raising age to purchase assault weapons after California shooting Pollster says Trump unlikely to face 'significant' primary challenge MORE (Ariz.) as “horrible” on border security.

Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerGetting serious about infrastructure Schumer calls on McConnell to hold vote on Equality Act 'SleepyCreepy Joe' and 'Crazy Bernie': Trump seeks to define 2020 Dems with insults 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 CottonSenate confirms controversial 9th Circuit pick without blue slips Cotton: US could win war with Iran in 'two strikes' Kushner, Miller talk immigration at Senate GOP lunch 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 BookerOvernight Health Care — Presented by Campaign for Accountability — Momentum builds for federal laws enshrining abortion rights | Missouri lawmakers approve bill banning abortions at 8 weeks | Warren unveils plan to protect abortion rights 2020 Dem Seth Moulton calls for expanding cannabis access for veterans Momentum builds behind push to pass laws enshrining abortion rights 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 CaseyWhy Congress needs to bring back tax deduction for worker expenses Biden cements spot as 2020 front-runner The Hill's Morning Report - Biden's bid gets under Trump's skin 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 ShaheenForeign Relations senators demand Iran briefing The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Pass USMCA Coalition - After GOP infighting, Trump Jr. agrees to testify again Bipartisan senators seek sanctions on Russian pipeline work 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 HeitkampOn The Money: Stocks sink on Trump tariff threat | GOP caught off guard by new trade turmoil | Federal deficit grew 38 percent this fiscal year | Banks avoid taking position in Trump, Dem subpoena fight Fight over Trump's new NAFTA hits key stretch Former senators launching effort to help Dems win rural votes MORE (D-N.D.) said of another shutdown.