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Dems back away from brink on Dreamers


Dems back away from brink on Dreamers
POLITICO - TOP Stories  /  eschor@politico.com (Elana Schor)

Democratic leaders will not force a shutdown showdown over relief for young undocumented immigrants.

Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer and other lawmakers are pictured. | AP Photo

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (left), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (right) and other Democratic lawmakers discuss immigration during a news conference on Capitol Hill on Sept. 6. | Jose Luis Magana/AP Photo

Democratic leaders aren't going to shut down the government to save Dreamers in December.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi haven't stopped fighting to deliver something on immigration by the end of the month. But they've subtly shifted their rhetoric in recent days and aren't insisting that deportation relief be paired with a government funding bill this year.

Top Democrats' retreat from demands on a deal before 2018 ensures they won't get blamed for a possible shutdown and won't upend Senate talks on a bipartisan deal combining relief for Dreamers with border security. Those negotiations appear to be gaining momentum and may well bear fruit this month, particularly once Republicans reach a final agreement on their long-sought package of tax cuts.

But edging away from a hard-line stance also courts a potential uprising from the left, as frustrated activists have long set their sights on a Dreamer solution this year.

"This is something that the president said he wanted to do. This is something that has a broad bipartisan majority," said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), a member of Schumer's whip team. "Whether we get it done this week or next week, or this month or next month, I think remains to be seen."

Schatz added that he is concerned about doing right by immigrant groups and other key members of the party's grassroots that are desperate for a fix before 2018.

Schumer and Pelosi have taken pains in recent weeks to control the narrative around the fate of Dreamers, both privately and publicly, in an effort to keep the issue from getting even more politically charged and derailing any chances for a bipartisan deal.

The Democratic leaders did not make the issue a central focus during a meeting with President Donald Trump, Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to discuss the year-end agenda last week, according to multiple sources.

Multiple Senate liberals emphasized the importance of bipartisan Dreamer talks led by Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). Issuing ultimatums, they suggested, risks reducing GOP support for helping young undocumented immigrants at risk for deportation in March.

"Obviously I want a Dreamers fix by the end of the year," Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said in an interview. "I'm not sure that it serves our purposes to draw hard lines in the sand in the middle of negotiations."

Schumer, Pelosi and other Democratic leaders have also gone out of their way to list Dreamers as just one of several issues Congress needs to address in the coming weeks, rather than solely focusing on the immigrants who were thrown into limbo after Trump rescinded the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

"Democrats are not willing to shut government down, no," Pelosi said late last week when asked how far Democrats would take the fight over Dreamers this month. "As I said, that is part of our priorities that are listed here, and there may be some more."

Democrats are loath to be pegged as responsible for shutting down the government this month. And with Ryan and other leaders saying publicly that they have no plans to couple a legislative fix for Dreamers with spending talks this month, Democrats' best option may be to push the issue to January.

A senior Democratic aide cautioned that the party has "not given up the ghost yet" on bipartisan Senate negotiations bearing fruit this month.

But Democrats are aware that crafting a remedy Trump can bless, which would give cover to GOP lawmakers, may be impossible before 2018.

Democrats would "put the whole negotiating process at risk by" courting a shutdown, said Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.). "This is about fixing it for the DACA kids."

One possibility, according to aides, is for Democrats is to secure a handshake agreement with Republican leaders to address the issue early next year.

But that plan comes with its own pitfalls. Lawmakers are positioning themselves for a hectic legislative session in January that could include funding the government through the rest of the fiscal year and raising the debt ceiling, politically perilous issues for Republican leaders.

And it's unclear if an agreement from both sides to help Dreamers early next year would be enough to quell the anger of Democrats' most passionate lawmakers and immigrant advocacy groups, who have criticized Democratic leaders for failing to secure a Dreamer deal back in September.

"If Congress goes home for Christmas and leaves Dreamers in the cold, there will be a grassroots uprising that will scorch every legislator who fails to do what's right," Ben Wikler, MoveOn.org's Washington director, said in an interview.

Promising discussions about a bipartisan solution that would include saving Dreamers and boosting border security are happening in the House as well as the Senate. But those talks are being kept tightly under wraps for now and multiple Democratic aides said privately they don't foresee a scenario where DACA is addressed this year.

For Democratic leaders it's a delicate dance. They don't want to admit that a DACA deal looks like a longshot now and risk angering their members and progressive groups. But they also are wary of making immigration central to government funding talks and getting tagged by Trump and other Republicans as willing to shut down the government over the issue.

"The only person who's been tweeting about shutdowns is Donald Trump," Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said in an interview. "So if he really wants to precipitate a shutdown, that's on him."

Still, Democratic leaders know an agreement with Republicans to move forward in January may not be enough to soothe Hispanic lawmakers and advocates who are still angry Schumer and Pelosi failed to secure a Dreamer fix in September when they cut a spending deal with Trump.

Trump "backed out on" a previous deal on immigration earlier this year, recalled Angel Padilla, policy director at the liberal group Indivisible. "I would not trust that a handshake deal would get us what we need."

Even some Democratic leaders are openly questioning the strategy to push off Dreamer negotiations.

"I think we should've frankly been more assertive in September," House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Tuesday. Hoyer also raised his concerns at a private caucus meeting in September, saying Democrats should have withheld their votes for a spending bill at the time.

But now that immigration talks are underway, only a handful of Senate Democratic liberals have vowed to oppose any year-end funding bill without a solution for Dreamers.

Given the bipartisan engagement on the issue, "I do not want to participate in creating an environment in which anything looks like an ultimatum that can be used by the Republicans to shift the blame for a shutdown," Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said. "So for now, I'm satisfied to see the progress that continues to be made."



Original Article: https://www.politico.com/story/2017/12/12/democrats-dreamers-immigrants-shutdown-293750

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