Democrats have just lost what little leverage they had to pressure Republicans to call up a bill that would address the legal status of children who came to the U.S. illegally, but since Congress just passed a budget deal that boosts defense funds and domestic spending caps, and lifted the debt ceiling for a year, reports The Washington Examiner.
The budget agreement set spending levels for the next two years, and it passed as part of a short-term spending bill that included in disaster relief with 73 Democrats joining most Republicans in support.
The Democrats who opposed the deal mainly did so because it didn’t include a fix for the 800,000 or so recipients of the Deferred Actions for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which now has little chance of being passed before the March 5 deadline imposed by Trump back in September.
Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., told reporters Friday morning that Democrats now have zero leverage on immigration. He noted that the three leverage points Democrats laid out months ago are all gone. Budget caps, the debt ceiling, and disaster aid, Gutierrez said, were all included in the bill that passed early Friday.
Gutierrez scoffed when asked if the omnibus spending bill, which will be voted on next month and is needed to implement the budget agreement, could be a pressure point.
“Really?” Gutierrez quipped. “Is it realistic? Can you continue to threaten with something?”
Guitierrez explained that in order for that to happen, that would mean all those members who voted “yes” on the deal yesterday would then have to turn around next month and vote the opposite. Which just isn’t realistic when it comes to such major budget priorities like disaster relief.
Democrats could try to hold out until next month, but most of the Democrats that voted on Friday are from towns dealing with the opioid epidemic or from districts in dire need of disaster aid. Some Dems have targeted those in swing states that could afford to vote for the immigration bill instead but it’s unlikely those members will cave.
That reality wasn’t lost on Rep. Ruben Gallego D-Ariz., who shouted to his colleagues on the House floor, “No” with a raised thumbs down in the final moments of the vote.
“We have to be realistic, if this passes and there’s no guarantee of a Dream Act vote, then we’re going to have to deal with the reality that we have to find whatever means possible to put pressure on Speaker Ryan and the Republican Party to bring a fair vote on the Dream Act to the floor,” Gallego told reporters ahead of the vote.
But Ryan didn’t give any concrete commitment to Gallego about the Dream Act vote, but did say that he promises that the House “will solve this DACA problem.”
Democrats want Ryan to commit to a “Queen of the Hill” approach, which means the majority would allow multiple immigration proposals on the floor for consideration and let the House work its will. The legislation that gets the most votes would be the one adopted. Ryan made no such promise despite calls from Democratic leaders in the lead up to budget vote, reports The Washington Examiner.
When asked what leverage remained, Democratic Caucus Chairman Joe Crowley, exhausted after a day that dragged into the early morning hours on Friday, said the fate of Dreamers now rests on public opinion.
“Well, I think we have the moral ‘suasion of the American people,” said Crowley, D-N.Y. “I think it’s moral ‘suasion at this point. Speaker said that we’ll move on something, I don’t know what that is.”
But Crowley didn’t believe Ryan. “I have no reason to base any belief that it will happen, no,” he said.
73 Democrats voted in favor of the passage of this budget bill, but Grijalva still holds on to more hope than his colleagues about the possibility of reaching a deal over DACA.
“We still have the most important leverage points, and that’s the humanity of this issue,” Grijalva said. “Instead of worrying about what legislative angle we have let’s now concentrate on making this a campaign that is both political and zeroed in on Ryan.”
Polling shows that an overwhelming majority of American support permanent legal protections for DACA recipients. Nearly 87 percent believe DACA kids should be allowed to stay in the U.S. according to a recent CBS survey.
That sentiment is why Rep. John Yarmuth D-Ky., who voted in favor of the deal, sees an opening for Democrats to hammer Republicans on the issue if they don’t follow through.
“The leverage is that if we don’t do anything then there are going to be people deported and they’re going to be on television every night,” Yarmuth said, “and there’s a midterm election coming.”