Democrats Facing Blowback From The Left Over Deal To End Shutdown
The deal that led to the end of the Federal Government shutdown isn't sitting well with the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.
While the resolution of the three-day government shutdown that we saw yesterday was viewed as a positive development by the media, and generally hailed by politicians in both political parties on Capitol Hill, one group of people isn’t very happy at the moment and they could pose problems for Democrats in the months to come:
WASHINGTON — The decision by Senate Democrats to end the government shutdown on Monday in exchange for a promised immigration vote enraged liberals, who accused the lawmakers of betrayal and threatened to mount primaries against some of the Democrats who voted yes.
Regardless of what happens in the Senate, progressive and immigrant advocacy groups said House Republican leaders will never take up a bill that would offer legal status to young undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children without excruciating concessions on other immigration issues. They accused Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, and moderate Democratic senators of capitulating to protect senators up for re-election in November in Republican-leaning states.
“They blinked because they’ll always put the party and the success of the party first,” said Representative Luis V. Gutiérrez of Illinois, one of the leading Democratic advocates for immigrants, complaining that Hispanics got short shrift. “It’s the one word they know in Spanish: mañana.”
The hasty retreat by 33 Senate Democrats was particularly humiliating in the immediate aftermath of the anniversary of the Women’s March, which saw thousands of activists reconvene in cities across the country to protest against President Trump and congressional Republicans. Liberal groups such as MoveOn.org began urging members to sign up on Monday for rallies aimed at pressuring Republicans to protect the young undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers.
By noon, their own ostensible allies in Congress had buckled.
“The grass-roots are rightly furious with a slew of elected Democrats,” said Ben Wikler, the Washington director of MoveOn.org. “In the Obama years, Republicans learned to be more afraid of primary challenges than general elections. But Democrats are still operating as though the Tea Party is more powerful than The Resistance.”
The anger on the left was reminiscent of conservative unrest that fueled primary race challenges against sitting Republican senators accused of appeasing an opposition president, Barack Obama, and his congressional allies.
Mr. Schumer, determined to keep the fissures in his party coalition muted, used a meeting of Senate Democrats before the vote to urge the liberals in his caucus not to criticize those voting to reopen the government, according to one senator who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a private meeting.
And for the most part, the liberal senators who opposed the agreement held their fire. Democrats have largely avoided the internal insurrections that upended Republicans over the past decade. Mr. Schumer is not a figure of derision on the left as Mr. McConnell is on the right.
And Senate Democrats have crushed most primary election challenges easily. Senate leaders have intervened freely in a number of 2018 races — in states like Arizona and Tennessee — to anoint more moderate standard-bearer
But the patience of the left may be running thin. By appearing to retreat on Monday, Democrats have stirred new talk on the left about challenging incumbents who had previously given little thought to their own nominations.
Faiz Shakir, the political director of the American Civil Liberties Union and an adviser to former Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, said the group and its allies were actively exploring places to intervene in primary elections.
Mr. Shakir said of some Democrats that it is an “open question, still, whether they’re going to fight for Dreamers.”
Right now, only one Democratic senator faces a serious primary challenge: Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, who voted against the government-funding deal and complained privately that she and most of her colleagues had been asked to vote on Friday against a nearly identical measure to keep the government open.
Ms. Feinstein has tacked to the left since Kevin de Léon, the president of the California State Senate, announced his challenge to her in October.
Mr. de Léon said Monday that Democrats had made a grave mistake striking “another fingers-crossed bargain with Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell.”
Mr. de Léon said he had called and left a voice mail message with Thomas E. Perez, the Democratic National Committee chairman, and planned to convey that Democrats had sent a terrible message to “voters of color and millennial voters who feel like they’ve been abandoned.”
“Once again, the party’s leaders in Washington have capitulated, compromised and redrawn a line in the sand even further away from justice,” he said.
One House Democrat is already under fire for not taking a stronger stance on behalf of immigrants: Representative Daniel Lipinski of Illinois, a moderate Democrat from Chicago who is facing a primary race challenger, Marie Newman, in March.
Ryan Koronkowski at Think Progress expresses much of what I’ve been seeing from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party since yesterday afternoon:
Senate Democrats agreed to vote for a continuing resolution on Monday to fund the government through February 8th, and possibly another continuing resolution on February 8, for the commitment to consider an unidentified immigration bill.
No immigration agreement was attached to the bill passed on Monday. McConnell’s deputy, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) has already cast doubt on the idea of considering an immigration bill before February 8.
So all of this rests on McConnell’s word. Of course even if a reasonable immigration bill were to pass the Senate, there are no guarantees it would be supported in the House, or indeed even the White House.
But McConnell has promised many things in recent months and failed to follow through.
On the other hand, Eric Levitz at New York magazine argues that the left should be happy with what they got. and he also correctly points out that there is currently a nationwide injunction in place that bars the Trump Administration from enforcing the decision to end DACA. If that injunction remains in effect past March 5th, then the calculus behind forcing another shutdown changes signifiantly:
Put simply, it is hard to see how the tactical costs of postponing the shutdown fight — for three weeks — outweigh the substantive benefits of immediately ending a months-long children’s health-care crisis. As of Monday morning, Congressional Republicans had allowed the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to go without long-term funding for 114 days. This malign neglect had already led many states to scale back their enrollment efforts, while a few were on the cusp of suspending their participation in CHIP altogether — a development that would have left thousands of children without access to affordable health care. By voting for a three-week continuing resolution, Democrats averted that disaster, and secured six years of funding for CHIP.
In my understanding, the case against accepting that trade-off goes something like this: Action is urgently needed to protect 700,000 Dreamers from deportation; a prolonged government shutdown is a surefire way to force such action; and Republicans would agree to pass a “clean” CHIP bill — in the middle of a government shutdown —before they would allow states to start suspending CHIP.
The first premise of this argument is true; although it’s a bit less true today than it was the last time Democrats voted to fund the government without a DACA replacement. The second premise seems suspect, and the third, laughable (these people do not care if poor kids lose access to health insurance — they spent most of last year actively trying to take it away from them).
if we could be certain that a prolonged shutdown would force Republicans to pass a DREAM Act in (relatively) short order, it would have been worth it for Democrats to stick their guns today. But we can’t be certain of that. In fact, there’s reason to suspect that shutting down the government is simply not an effective tactic for forcing the GOP’s hand on this.
The strongest source of Democratic leverage on DACA is, and always has been, the fact that the Republican Party is afraid to strip legal status from 700,000 American-raised, law-abiding, gainfully employed people — who have deep ties to American companies, churches, universities, and communities. The Breitbart right might applaud such a development, but polling suggests that no one else will. And once the dispossession of 700,000 Dreamers ceases to be a looming threat — and becomes a present reality — the backlash is certain to be immense. The risk of mass protest and unrest is high.
If hundreds of DACA recipients were still irrevocably losing their legal status every day, this gambit might not be sustainable. But in a context where the White House is accepting renewal applications — and there is no imminent deadline for when DACA actually ends — it’s hard for me to understand how an extended shutdown would put more pressure on Republicans to pass a DREAM Act, than it would on Democrats to reopen the government. Over the course of such a shutdown, the number of Americans inconvenienced by the Democrats’ obstruction would steadily grow, while the number of DACA recipients with no means of renewing their work permits would not.
It’s possible that the GOP, as the ruling party, would bear the blame for an extended shutdown. But if Republicans were constantly arguing for the urgency of funding the government — and of renewing CHIP — while Democrats were talking about immigration, it seems likely that the public would eventually side with the former.
So: The efficacy of a prolonged shutdown, as a tactic for forcing action on DACA is, at the very least, unclear. And the substantive harms of the tactic are considerable. There are furloughed federal workers who live paycheck to paycheck. There are Americans who do contract work for the government who could lose wages that they won’t get back. And countless Americans will be adversely impacted in ways we can’t even predict — during the 2013 shutdown, low-income Americans temporarily lost access to food stamps due to a computer glitch.
Given the seriousness of these harms, and the uncertainty of success, it’s not clear to me that launching a prolonged government shutdown next month is a good idea.
In retrospect, it seems clear on its face that the deal we ended up with yesterday, which in many ways was not dissimilar from the Continuing Resolution that the Senate rejected on Friday night before the shutdown, was the best that Democrats could have gotten no matter how long the shutdown extended. Even before the shutdown began, it seemed apparent that any plan that included the idea that Democrats would not vote to approve a spending bill until a DACA bill was brought to the floor and approved by the both the House and the Senate, and then signed into the law by the President, was simply not realistic. For one thing, both the House GOP leadership and the White House said from the outset that they weren’t willing to negotiate anything related to immigration or any other non-budgetary issue until the government was reopened. As long as that was the case, the most that Senate Democrats could have reasonably expected was basically what they got, a short-term government funding bill that gives them at least some leverage to hold over Republicans while the body is discussing and debating immigration and a commitment from Senate leadership that a DACA bill will be brought forward for discussion, debate, and a vote. As we saw with health care reform, Mitch McConnell can’t guarantee that such a bill, whatever form it may take, will pass and he certainly can’t guarantee that such a bill will be considered by and pass the House and signed into law by the President. The deal that Democrats got was most likely the best they were going to get under the circumstances, and reaching it sooner rather than later was arguably in the best interests of the party.
Even before the shutdown started, there were signs that the Democrats were taking a big political risk by insisting on action on a DACA bill as the price for agreeing to keep the government open. A CNN poll released last Friday, for example, showed that a majority of Americans said that DACA was not worth shutting the government down over. This despite the fact that repeated polling has shown that the vast majority of Americans, including most Republicans, support Congressional action to protect DACA beneficiaries and others who were brought to the United States as children and find themselves in the only country they’ve ever known branded as an illegal immigrant. Additionally, while there wasn’t any real polling released during what turned out to be a short-lived shutdown, there were several signs that Democrats faced the potential of being blamed for the shutdown if it turned into a longer-term matter. While it’s possible that this ultimately may not have mattered for the midterm elections coming up in just over nine months, Senate Minority Leader obviously didn’t want to take that risk and, most likely, neither did Democrats in red states that face already fought re-election battles this fall. The Washington Post’s political team summarizes much of that thinking, and the process that led Schumer to ultimately agree to the deal McConnell was offering that I’d recommend reading in full if you’re interested in finding out why Senate Democrats agreed to this deal. Taking all of that into account, it’s easy to see why the Democrats ended up agreeing to the deal that McConnell offered them.
What happens going forward is, of course, the open question. Many Democrats and many on the left are openly expecting and saying that they don’t believe that Mitch McConnell will live up to his commitment to bring a DACA bill to the floor. Perhaps their cynicism will end up being justified but I tend to doubt it. McConnell is smart enough to know that if he fails to follow through on his promise then he’ll end up with another shutdown on his hands after February 8th that will be much more difficult to resolve. Additionally, the Democrats would arguably have the upper hand in such a standoff given the fact that they would be able to point to the commitment that McConnell made yesterday as the reason for the shutdown. Given that, I expect McConnell will indeed bring up a DACA bill, although it is as yet unclear what form that bill will take and what will happen to that bill once debate begins and Senators from both sides seek to add amendments to it as part of the debate process. All of that is up in the air, as is the question of whether or not Congress can actually find the political will to act on DACA before it it is set to officially expire in March. For now, though, Democrats have gotten the best deal they could have expected and their progressive win would be wise to recognize that fact, accept reality, and concentrate on mobilizing support for the kind of DACA bill they favor and on the midterm elections in November. The alternative is the kind of circular firing squad that the Tea Party brought to the GOP during the Obama Administration, and that’s not a key to success on policy issues as long as their party is in the minority.