In the immediate wake of Senate Democrats ending their weekend shutdown, a furious debate raged online this week over whether the party had caved in giving up critical leverage for a promise from Mitch McConnell to take up immigration legislation by Feb. 8. Arguments that they had not caved relied largely on the assumption that Democrats would surely continue to demand that a DACA fix accompany any long-term spending agreement, as they have for months. This assumption was wrong.
Senate Democrats are willing to drop their demand that relief for Dreamers be tied to any long-term budget agreement — a potential boost for spending talks, but one that could face opposition from their House counterparts.
The shift comes in response to the deal struck between Senate leaders Monday to reopen the government and begin debate on an immigration bill next month. Meanwhile, budget negotiators are expressing optimism that a two-year agreement to lift stiff caps on defense and domestic spending is increasingly within reach.
“We’re viewing [immigration and spending] on separate terms because they are on separate paths,” Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said Tuesday.
If Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals really is dropped from budget negotiations, Democrats and Dreamers will be riding entirely on the idea that Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans would be ashamed and embarrassed if they went back on their word. And, additionally, that House Republicans would take up a contentious immigration bill with no material incentive to do so.
These seem like questionable premises to House Democrats, who have balked at the news. “We are insisting that these things be in the same negotiation,” a Democratic aide told Politico. So, too, are liberal activists. “Heartbreaking that they’re doing this in the Senate,” Indivisible co-founder Ezra Levin tweeted. “Hope @NancyPelosi fights for Dreamers in the House.”
DACA negotiations may well continue in earnest in the Senate. But Senate Democrats can’t say they’re willing to go to the mat for Dreamers anymore.