As battles over immigration and government spending advance with no solution in sight, Senate Democrats are being forced to decide whether they’d support a short-term measure to avert a government shutdown – even if it doesn’t include protections for the hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants brought into the United States as children.
A contingency of 2020 prospects – including California Sen. Kamala Harris, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand – want to play hardball, refusing to vote for anything that doesn’t secure the fate of those who gained legal status under former President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
Their position matches a Democratic base that overwhelmingly supports protections for DACA participants and is eager to see lawmakers use every available tactic to pressure Trump.
“Why are we kicking the can down the road?” Booker said Tuesday.
But the 10 Democratic senators up for re-election this year in states Trump won in 2016 – all of whom need to win over conservative voters – may be less willing to force a government shutdown over immigration policy.
“I’ll vote to keep the government open,” West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin said.
“We’ve got people running for president all trying to find their base, and then you’ve got people from Trump states that are trying to continue to legislate the way we always have – by negotiation,” Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, whose state Trump carried by 19 percentage points, told The New York Times. “And never the twain shall meet.”
The clock is ticking, with government funding set to expire Friday.
Even Democrats who won’t be in tough races in 2018 or 2020 are slowly feeling out the political dilemma they could face in the coming days – with some refusing to take clear positions on whether they’d back a government funding bill that didn’t include DACA.
Some said they are still holding out hope that a deal negotiated by a bipartisan group of senators, including Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin and South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, could move forward – despite Trump’s rejection of that deal at a heated meeting last week.
“I would hope we’d have all the things everybody agreed to,” Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy said Tuesday when he was asked that question.
Pressed to clarify, he repeated: “I would hope we’d have something everybody has agreed to.”
“I would hope the President and Republican leaders wouldn’t want to humiliate themselves by not going forward with what we agreed to,” Leahy said, turning around and acknowledging how vague he’d been as he walked into an elevator. “How’s that for a clear answer?”
Democratic strategists involved in 2018 races acknowledged the complicated politics of immigration but noted that protections for Dreamers are politically popular across the board and said Republicans – who control all levers of government power – would be blamed for a shutdown.
But the positions of Harris, Booker and Gillibrand, all seen as viable prospects for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, have reflected the passion of the broader Democratic base – which is young, diverse and overwhelmingly supportive of hard-line tactics against Trump and congressional Republicans.
Those Democrats have dug in since Trump said at a private Oval Office meeting that he wants immigrants from places like overwhelmingly white Norway – and not from Africa.
Booker on Tuesday ripped into Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen during a heated committee hearing, after Nielsen denied hearing Trump say the words “shithole” or “shithouse” in a White House meeting last week.
Booker said Nielsen was “complicit” in the damage done by Trump’s reported insult.
“When ignorance and bigotry is allied with power, it is a dangerous force in our country. Your silence and your amnesia is complicit in it,” Booker said.