Did the Democrats Just Cave on the Shutdown?

This morning Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell reached an agreement that could end the government shutdown. A spending bill passed the Senate 81-18 and now goes back to the House for a vote. Here is how Schumer described the deal:

For another take, here is Jake Tapper:

The Senate just approved another short-term spending plan which includes funding for CHIP for six years. But this one will only last for about three weeks. At that point, if no “global” spending agreement is reached (including DACA), there will be another shutdown while the Senate takes up dealing with DACA alone.

Howls of “Democrats caved” are being heard all over the internet. But there are some dissenters from that view.

In this last round, Republicans tried using CHIP funding as a hostage. But not enough Democrats took the bait and so it has been taken off the table. That means one less leverage point for Republicans.

How people on the left are lining up on this deal has a lot to do with a couple of factors. For Democratic politicians, it seems to come down to whether they are more concerned about 2018 or 2020. Vulnerable Democrats running for re-election in red states in 2018 seem to be relieved. Those who could be angling for a presidential nomination in 2020 (and come from blue states) make up the bulk of Senate Democrats who voted “no.”

Personally, I’d suggest that Sen. Dick Durbin, who has led the fight for Dreamers in the Senate, is the one to watch. He voted in favor of the agreement and said this:

We have gathered the largest bipartisan group of Senators to ever commit to moving forward on the Dream Act and immigration.  We have a process.  I believe that that sets the stage for us to work together.  For the first time in five years, we will have a debate on the floor of the Senate on the Dream Act and immigration.  To all the Dreamers who are watching today: don’t give up.  I know that your lives are hanging in the balance on what we do here on Capitol Hill and with the White House.  Three weeks from now, I hope to be joining you in celebrating the passage, with you and your families and your communities, of a measure which will strengthen America and give you an opportunity to be part of our future.

The other factor that seems to weigh heavily on whether or not liberals support this agreement is the question of how comfortable they are in making the Dreamers a focus for the party. For example, here’s Michael Cohen:

That is interesting to me because it captures the fact that in three weeks, we could be headed for a crisis that is all about the Dreamers. Cohen sees that as a “weak position” for the Democrats. But there’s another side to that story. For months (and even years) now, Republicans have been trying to portray themselves as sympathetic to the Dreamers. We’ve heard sentiments like this from the president:

When Paul Ryan came face-to-face with a Dreamer last January, here’s what he told her:

What we have to do is find a way to make sure that you can get right with the law. And we’ve got to do this so that the rug doesn’t get pulled out from under you and your family gets separated. That’s the way we feel. And that is exactly what our new, incoming president has stated he wants to do….I’m sure you’re a great contributor to [your] community.

The question for the next couple of weeks will be whether Republicans actually meant what they’ve said in the past about Dreamers, or simply want to use them as leverage to force changes to our current legal immigration system. There are obviously some pretty deep divisions within the GOP on that.

If you think that Democrats have a strong case to make on the Dream Act, that fight is now on, with a showdown vote in the Senate amidst a government shutdown if a broader deal isn’t reached. On the other hand, if you think that standing up for Dreamers is a weak hand for Democrats, then today’s agreement is a major cause for concern and could be characterized as a cave.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60 .