The Senate voted overwhelmingly Monday afternoon on a procedural step toward reopening the government for just three weeks—based on a promise from Senate Majority Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to hold a vote on an immigration bill. Once the Senate holds an all-but-certain vote on final passage of the temporary spending measure, the ball will be in the House’s court.
But while many Senate Democrats touted the progress made in their chamber and celebrated the government soon being “open for business again,” many House Democrats were furious, accusing their Senate counterparts of “caving” under pressure and noting that there are no assurances any immigration bill that makes it out of the Senate will even be considered by the lower chamber.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) declared Monday afternoon that she would oppose the package and urge her caucus to do the same.
“I don’t see that there’s any reason—I’m speaking personally and hearing from my members—to support what was put forth,” she said. “I don’t know what will come of it. But when it comes over here I know that there are a large number of our members who will not support it.”
As the news of the Senate vote drifted from the northern end of the Capitol to House offices on the south side, lawmakers and staff began publicly and privately airing their grievances that Democrats did not hold out for a better deal for the 700,000 young immigrants whose protections President Trump rescinded last year, and who face deportation starting March 5 if Congress does not act on their behalf.
One House Democratic aide told TPM her entire office was in tears following the vote, while another said members were “extremely disappointed.”
“An assurance in the Senate means nothing to [House Speaker Paul] Ryan,” the aide said. “House GOP has already said that they won’t honor any agreement that the Senate makes.”
The aide added that McConnell only promised to hold a vote on an immigration bill of some kind, not the DREAM Act or a standalone bill to restore protections to DACA recipients, as Democrats originally demanded. Rather than voting on those pieces of legislation, he warned, Congress may instead hold votes on arch-conservative alternatives that restrict legal immigration, further militarize the U.S.-Mexico border, and penalize so-called sanctuary cities.
Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) echoed this fear in a statement just after the Senate vote.
“I do not see how a vague promise from the Senate Majority Leader about a vague policy to be voted on in the future helps the Dreamers or maximizes leverage the Democrats and American people have over the Republicans right now,” he said. “This simply kicks the can down the road with no assurance that we will protect Dreamers from deportation or fight Republican attempts to curtail or eliminate legal immigration.”
But Democrats in the Senate who backed the temporary spending bill defended their decision Monday afternoon, saying the agreement reached with McConnell was the best deal possible.
“The U.S. Senate can only do what the U.S. Senate can do,” Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) argued to reporters. “The President and the House will do what they’ll do, but I believe if we come out with a strong bipartisan bill out of the Senate, that certainly speaks volumes to the President as well as the House.”
Asked if he thinks Democrats could have gotten more assurances had they held out and not voted to reopen the government, Peters pushed back.
“In my experience, the longer the shutdown lasts, the more entrenched people become, and the harder and harder it is to do even the easy things,” he said. “It’s better to do things now than wait another three days or a week from now.”
As the Senate prepares to kick the issue over to the other side of the Capitol, Democratic House leadership is in a difficult position. For the duration of the three-day-and-counting shutdown, they’ve been pushing the message that more than just DACA is at stake. In back-to-back press conferences Sunday and Monday, Pelosi said her caucus is demanding not only protection for DACA recipients, but also a promise that the long-term spending caps currently being negotiated will have equal increases for the military and domestic budgets, and the assurance of additional disaster relief funds for Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and fire-and-mudslide battered California.
The bill the House will be handed Monday evening does not include any provisions to address any of these demands.
The Congressional Black Caucus held a press conference just a few hours before the vote saying they too would voting against what they called “a joke of a CR,” pointing to its lack of funding for Community Health Centers, disaster aid, a response to the opioid epidemic.
“This fails to adequately and properly respond to the needs of the American people,” Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC) said of the bill. “We ought to be ashamed of ourselves.”