Gutiérrez, Dems worry leaders may cave in 'Dreamer' talks

Gutiérrez, Dems worry leaders may cave in 'Dreamer' talks
© Getty Images

Democrats pressing their leaders to take a stand in a year-end spending fight say they’re worried the party is going to cave and allow a stopgap measure to be approved even if it doesn’t help young immigrants who could face deportation early next year.

Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.), the party's most vocal advocate for immigrants, said he's frustrated that Democrats aren't taking a harder line on adding language protecting those covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to the stopgap.


“Not optimistic. I think Democrats have really not stood up for the Dreamers as they can,” he said, referring to young immigrants brought to the country illegally who are allowed to work and go to school in the United States under DACA.

Dozens of House Democrats and a coalition of progressive senators that includes several possible 2020 hopefuls have said that they will oppose an end-of-year short-term stopgap measure without a DACA deal.

But Congress appears poised to pass a “clean” continuing resolution and kick a slew of fights on DACA and other issues into next year.

The decision is likely to spark outrage from activists and progressives, who demanded that Democrats reach a deal to protect young immigrants covered by the program after leaders left the issue out of a September agreement to keep the government open.

Some Democrats now argue January represents their best shot at getting an agreement as lawmakers prepare to leave town by Friday.

Democrats think they will have leverage as Republicans seek to pass a longer-term spending deal next month that will need support from Democrats in both chambers.

But that stance is unlikely to satisfy rank-and-file Democrats irritated about a deal their leaders cut with Trump in September that left DACA aside.

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerMcConnell-backed Super PAC says nominating Roy Moore would be 'gift wrapping' seat to Dems McConnell vows to 'vigorously' oppose Moore's Senate bid Pelosi: Trump delay on Harriet Tubman is 'an insult to the hopes of millions' MORE (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiThe Hill's Morning Report - In exclusive interview, Trump talks Biden, Iran, SCOTUS and reparations Lawmakers 'failed us' says ICE chief Pelosi, Democratic leaders seek to quell liberal revolt over border bill MORE (D-Calif.) promised immigration advocates that it would be DACA or bust in December. And in a "Dear Colleague" letter on Wednesday, Pelosi pointed to the immigration standstill as one reason Democrats should oppose the CR.

Rep. Michelle Lujan GrishamMichelle Lynn Lujan GrishamNew Mexico bans employers from asking about applicants' criminal history Trump antagonizes both parties on trade Trump jokes after rallygoer suggests migrants be shot MORE (D-N.M.), chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said Pelosi and House Democrats would “hold the line.”

“The House is solid. We're not voting on any spending bill that doesn't address a DACA fix. That's the Democratic stronghold, that's the leverage for Republicans. We believe that they're going to need us, we're hoping sooner than later,” she said.

If a stopgap measure passed the House with Republican votes, however, it’s not clear that Democrats in the Senate would stop it. Several Senate Democrats, many of whom are up for reelection next year in states won by Trump, have appeared hesitant to spark a shutdown fight over DACA. 

Gutiérrez said he has “faith” in Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinNegotiators face major obstacles to meeting July border deadline Senate set to bypass Iran fight amid growing tensions Schumer calls for delay on passage of defense bill amid Iran tensions MORE (D-Ill.), the Senate minority whip who's been Gutiérrez's longtime ally in the fight for immigration reform, despite Durbin's recent statements that a DACA solution is unlikely before January.

“I will not say the same for Schumer and what he's ready to do with our community, because I think he's backsliding,” said Gutiérrez. “He's not ready to stand up for the Dreamers as he should. And I hope they hold him accountable.”

Democratic leaders haven’t publicly closed the door on demanding a DACA fix in exchange for keeping the government open.

“We've been negotiating with our Republican counterparts for weeks in search of a deal to pair DACA protections with reasonable border security. ... I hope now that the tax bill is behind them, my Republican colleagues are finally willing to reach an agreement,” Schumer said.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellEXCLUSIVE: Trump on reparations: 'I don't see it happening' Overnight Health Care — Sponsored by Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids — Trump issues order to bring transparency to health care prices | Fight over billions in ObamaCare payments heads to Supreme Court Hillicon Valley: Senate bill would force companies to disclose value of user data | Waters to hold hearing on Facebook cryptocurrency | GOP divided on election security bills | US tracking Russian, Iranian social media campaigns MORE (R-Ky.) on Wednesday publicly committed to bringing a deal up for a vote if negotiators can reach an agreement on a DACA and border security bill by January.

“If negotiators reach an agreement on these matters by the end of January, I will bring it to the Senate floor for a free-standing vote. I encourage those working on such legislation to develop a compromise that can be widely supported by both political parties and actually become law,” he said.

His comments come after Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeJeff Flake becoming Harvard fellow Democrats needle GOP on standing up to Trump Amash gets standing ovation at first town hall after calling for Trump's impeachment MORE (R-Ariz.) said GOP leadership had committed to giving him a vote on a DACA bill next month.

In the House, however, conservatives oppose legislation that would allow Dreamers to work in the United States, and McConnell’s statement did not commit him to linking the immigration bill to must-pass legislation.

A bipartisan group of senators that included Durbin, Flake and Sen. John CornynJohn CornynDemocrats give Trump trade chief high marks GOP senators divided over approach to election security GOP lawmakers want Mulvaney sidelined in budget talks MORE (R-Texas) met with White House chief of staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE and Department of Homeland Security officials at the Capitol this week to try to nail down the particulars of a deal.

Senators said they discussed a U.S.-Mexico “border wall system,” in addition to the number of immigrants that would be covered by a DACA deal. They also discussed whether the deal should seek to tackle people who overstay their visas or the issue of unaccompanied minors who enter the country illegally.

Trump has also called for new limits on “chain migration” — when current citizens or permanent residents petition to bring relatives into the country — and that has also been a part of the discussions.

Durbin said the White House is “very demanding at the moment” and that they are asking for too much.

“I sent them back downtown. ... They had a grandiose plan and I kind of stepped in and said don't put all this on the backs of Dreamers. Come back with what you need to include in this bill for the White House to support it,” Durbin said.

Kelly, according to senators, is expected to hand over a new list of demands from the White House as soon as this week.

The Trump administration announced earlier this year that it would rescind DACA, setting up a mid-March deadline for Congress to take action. Trump argued that former President Obama overstepped his authority with the program, and that the issue should be dealt with by Congress.