Democrats put Dreamers and their party in danger by playing hardball

Democrats put Dreamers and their party in danger by playing hardball
© Greg Nash

Last week, both Democrats and Republicans in the Senate voted to reject three immigration reform measures, all of which were designed to compromise on the demands of both parties.

These measures included a proposal from the White House, as well as plans from Sens. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainChuck Todd's 'MTP Daily' moves time slots, Nicolle Wallace expands to two hours Senate GOP divided over whether they'd fill Supreme Court vacancy  Asian American voters could make a difference in 2020 MORE (R-Ariz.) and Chris CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsCoronavirus Report: The Hill's Steve Clemons interviews Thomas Isett Coronavirus Report: The Hill's Steve Clemons interviews Dr. Kate Broderick Making vulnerable children a priority in the pandemic response MORE (D-Del.) and from the Common Sense Coalition, a group of 16 senators made up of eight Republicans, seven Democrats, and one Independent.

While the plans differed on some issues, all included protection for immigrants under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as Dreamers. With the Senate out all of next week, it is unclear when the topic of immigration will be revisited. But for the Dreamers, time is running out: DACA expires March 5.

Democratic leaders have claimed that their top priority is ensuring the status of the Dreamers, but by refusing to compromise on other issues, like a border wall and increased limits on legal immigration, they are endangering the future of the Dreamers and harming themselves politically by giving Republicans an opening to shift blame onto them.

For example, on Wednesday, Sen. Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellProfessional sports players associations come out against coronavirus liability protections Democratic leaders report 'some progress' in talks with White House Top GOP senator urges agencies to protect renters, banks amid coronavirus aid negotiations MORE (R-Ky.) said, “My Democratic colleagues have spent months demanding the Senate take up this issue. They even shut down the government — unnecessarily, I might add — in order to secure this very week of debate. But now that the time has come to make law instead of just making points, they’re stalling.”

By using the Dreamers as a bargaining chip and rejecting deals that would protect their status, the Democrats are weakening their credibility with their Republican colleagues — and with voters. Polling has shown that immigration was a central issue for many of the Democratic voters who defected to Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpWhite House sued over lack of sign language interpreters at coronavirus briefings Wife blames Trump, lack of masks for husband's coronavirus death in obit: 'May Karma find you all' Trump authorizes reduced funding for National Guard coronavirus response through 2020 MORE in 2016. A recent Harvard-Harris poll found that 79 percent of Americans believe we need secure borders, and 61 percent think that current border security is insufficient.

To win back these voters and thus retake the House, Democrats need to show that they are willing to get tough on immigration and listen to voters on border security. Simply put, the Democratic Party is not in a position to play hardball on this issue. While polls may show Democrats leading in the generic congressional vote, this advantage comes almost exclusively from districts that the Democrats already hold, where they lead by an average of 38 points, according to a recent ABC poll.

This means that Democrats must focus on winning back the voters they lost in 2016, and this effort starts with immigration. With Republicans no more able to agree on this issue than their counterparts across the aisle, the Democrats have a unique chance to appear as a strong, unified and effective party.

After the failure of these three bills, Sen. Chuck SchumerChuck SchumerMeadows: 'I'm not optimistic there will be a solution in the very near term' on coronavirus package Biden calls on Trump, Congress to enact an emergency housing program Senators press Postal Service over complaints of slow delivery MORE (D-N.Y.) said, “If [Trump] would stop torpedoing bipartisan efforts, a good bill would pass.” But the reality is that both sides are guilty of partisanship and stubbornness, and the burden to work towards a compromise is as much on the Democrats as the Republicans.

By accepting a deal that accomplishes their goal of protecting Dreamers while also including support for increased border security, the Democrats will have a victory to point to in their preservation of DACA, while also demonstrating that they can get tough on immigration and that they are willing and able to compromise with the Republicans.

Instead of increasing dissent and disagreement, the Democrats have an opportunity right now to emerge as leaders focused on compromising and making progress. They should take advantage of this opportunity — for themselves and for the country.

Douglas E. Schoen (@DouglasESchoen) served as a pollster for President Clinton. A longtime political consultant, he is also a Fox News contributor and the author of 11 books, including “Putin’s Master Plan: To Destroy Europe, Divide NATO, and Restore Russian Power and Global Influence.”