At What Price? Congressional Democrats Divided Over How To Fight For DACA

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of N.Y., accompanied by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif., left, and others members of the House and Senate Democrats, speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017. House and Senate Democrats gather to call for Congressional Republicans to stand up to President Trump's decision to terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative by bringing the DREAM Act for a vote on the House and Senate Floor. ( AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
Jose Luis Magana/FR159526 AP
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Democrats are united in their fury over President Trump’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program — but they haven’t reached agreement on what they’re willing to do to try to force Congress to reinstate it.

Congressional Democrats are demanding that their GOP counterparts allow a clean authorization of a program that has given legal status to nearly 800,000 undocumented immigrants brought here as children.

But Republicans are promising to tie any fix to more money for border security — including possibly $1.6 billion in funding for a border fence that many see as a down payment on Trump’s long-promised border wall — and don’t seem eager to take a vote anytime soon on any plan. So far, Democrats haven’t shown a willingness to threaten blocking must-pass legislation if they can’t get votes on a clean DACA bill, and vary in their commitment to oppose any compromise legislation.

While Democrats are mostly playing wait-and-see to find out what the GOP will propose, they’re making different noises about what they might be willing to accept — and whether they’re willing to vote against must-pass legislation unless Republicans allow a vote on a clean DACA bill.

“If a clean DREAM Act does not come to the floor in September, we’re prepared to attach it to other items this fall until it passes,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) declared on Wednesday.

“I’m not sure how you can say you’re going to compromise somebody’s life with money [for border security],” Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) told TPM. “There’s no amount of compromise that I see that risks their lives.”

But demands for a clean bill won’t get them far unless they threaten to use what leverage they have — holding together to vote against a government shutdown or increasing the debt ceiling to force Republican leaders to include DACA in exchange for their votes. And if that fails, Democrats are split on whether they’re willing to give in and allow some more border security funds in exchange for protections for the 800,000 undocumented immigrants in the DACA program.

Democrats were handed more leverage on Wednesday, as Trump agreed to a three-month debt ceiling increase rather than a longer one congressional Republican leaders wanted. But it’s unclear how they’ll use it.

“I don’t think we should be paying ransom for hostages and that’s exactly what I believe [Republicans are] asking us to do,” Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) told TPM, repeating comments he made to cheers during a Wednesday morning caucus meeting. “They need our votes on the debt ceiling? Tell them we need 800,000 dreamers. They need our votes on an omnibus? We need 800,000 dreamers. We need to draw a line in the sand ourselves as we go in to negotiate.”

But Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) haven’t been willing to commit to that. Schumer dodged a direct question Wednesday afternoon about whether Democrats would withhold votes to keep the government open if they don’t get a DACA vote. Gutierrez admitted he didn’t think Democrats were ready to dig in their heels hard enough at this point.

“In the beginning it can look awfully lonely,” Gutierrez said, arguing party leadership will move his way.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) called money for a border wall a “non-starter,” and said that calling it a fence wouldn’t fix the issue — “If it looks like a wall and it acts like a wall it’s a wall.”

But he was one of a number of Democrats who didn’t rule out some form of increased funding for border security.

“We’ve consistently supported billions of dollars for strengthening our role in terms of technology and personnel on the borders. We’re always looking for cost-effective approaches on the security side,” he said.

“We all support border security but we don’t support billions of dollars on one end of Texas building a wall [in exchange for DACA],” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) told TPM.

The devil is likely to be in the details on what Democrats might be able to support. But with a crowded fall schedule crammed with other major issues , it’s unclear at this point what hill they’ll be willing to die on to force a DACA vote, and what compromises they might be willing to make.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Cameron Joseph is Talking Points Memo's senior political correspondent based in Washington, D.C. He covers Capitol Hill, the White House and the permanent campaign. Previous publications include the New York Daily News, Mashable, The Hill and National Journal. He grew up near Chicago and is an irrationally passionate Cubs fan.
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