The Slatest

House Democrats Are Totally Confused About Their Budget Strategy

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 07:  U.S. House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks to members of the media after her 8-hour long speech on immigration at the Capitol February 7, 2018 in Washington, DC. Pelosi exercised her power as minority leader and launched a filibuster-like floor speech on Dreamers and urged Republicans to take action to solve their status before the March 5th deadline President Trump has set for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi speaks to members of the media after her 8-hour-long speech on immigration at the Capitol on Wednesday.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

At a press conference on Thursday morning, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi reiterated that she would not vote for a budget deal the Senate is expected to send to the House later, as House Speaker Paul Ryan still would not commit to holding a neutral floor debate on immigration. She said she would vote against it even though the budget deal is, in her opinion, a “good bill.”

As I wrote yesterday, though, what matters is whether House Democratic leaders try to block their members from supporting the bill. The original idea was to leverage Democratic votes—which could be crucial to avoiding another government shutdown—to force Ryan into making a deal on the permanent status of Dreamers. But Ryan made clear on Thursday morning that he isn’t budging, saying he will only call up an immigration bill that President Trump supports. So, with just hours until federal funding expires, Pelosi is voting against the budget deal, but will she push her caucus to follow her lead?

Asked if she would whip against the bill, Pelosi said she was “just telling people why I’m voting the way I’m voting.” That would be a no. Pelosi is caught between progressives, who want to see a Dreamer solution secured through negotiations over a must-pass bill like the budget, and moderate Democrats in more competitive districts who lack the appetite for playing budget hardball over immigration. Delivering an eight-hour floor speech on behalf of Dreamers, as Pelosi did on Wednesday, and then freeing enough members to put the budget deal over the top seemed like a way of appeasing both sides.

Late Thursday morning, though, as HuffPost first reported, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer’s office sent out a “whip question” to members asking, “Will you OPPOSE the Budget Deal?” It stated that the bill pursues the “wrong course” by failing “to provide a path forward on protecting DREAMers.”

“Unlike in the Senate, there is no agreement that the House will even consider legislation to protect DREAMers,” the message reads. “By leaving this vital issue unresolved, this package leaves DREAMers isolated, without a path to resolution in the House.”

“DEMOCRATS ARE URGED TO VOTE NO ON THE BUDGET DEAL,” it ends. Some members saw this as a formal whip, others just as the leaders trying to get a sense of where the caucus stood.

Around 2 p.m. on Thursday afternoon, Pelosi issued her own statement to colleagues noting that “Republicans do not have the votes to pass this caps bill on their own.” Very true. It concludes, though, without pressing her colleagues to reject it.

“House Democrats have a voice here and we must be heard,” it reads. “These are the reasons I am voting against this bill.”

Once again, we’re left with the same questions as yesterday: Are House Democratic leaders really trying to block this bill? Many House Democrats, from what I’ve heard, are just as confused as I am and don’t know how to interpret these conflicting statements. Confusion doesn’t lend itself to unity.

Jim Newell

Jim Newell is a Slate staff writer.