This story was updated at 3:30 p.m.
Progressives and immigrant advocates are furious at Senate Democrats for agreeing to end a short-lived shutdown without any guarantee that they’ll win protections for undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as youngsters, seeing it as a full-scale capitulation by the party.
The majority of Senate Democrats voted Monday for a bill to fund the government through Feb. 8, less than three days after standing together to force a short-lived government shutdown. In doing so, they managed only to secure a promise from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) that he’d allow them to bring the DREAM Act to the floor for a vote if no deal is reached before then.
The deal infuriated the left-wing groups and immigration advocates who had cheered their Friday stand — with many warning of recriminations, the first major schism on the left since President Trump’s election.
“It’s morally reprehensible and political malpractice. It’s [Senate Minority Leader Chuck] Schumer’s job to keep his caucus together and stand up for progressive values and he failed on both fronts,” Ezra Levin, a leader of the Indivisible Project, told TPM shortly after the vote. “We’re going to be holding the Democrats accountable who caved.”
Levin’s group was among those on a conference call late Monday morning encouraging Democrats to stand strong on the vote. When TPM informed them during the call that Senate leaders had decided against doing so, the news was met with a stunned silence. After a few seconds Frank Sharry, the head of the pro-immigrant America’s Voice, weighed to say he had “a lot of concern” about its details.
“They grew a pair on Friday night and they couldn’t find them today,” Sharry told TPM in a follow-up conversation after the vote. “Friday night, Democrats stood together and said ‘we’re going to take on this racist bully.’ … By Monday morning they were climbing down for very little in return. Come on, Democrats.”
Sharry said he and other advocates wanted Democrats to stare down President Trump and the GOP for the next few days to let the pressure build and try to force them to the negotiating table once again. Instead, Trump refused to negotiate — and Democrats were the ones to crumble.
“What were Democrats thinking?” he said. “We’re pissed.”
He’s not the only one.
“Enough is enough. We cannot rely on empty promises from those who have already proven to play politics with the lives of Dreamers. Today, Republicans — and too many Democrats — in Congress betrayed our American values and allowed bigotry and fear to prevail,” the American Civil Liberties Union’s Lorella Praeli said in a statement. “We will be watching, and will make sure voters this November know if their representatives stood for Dreamers or for their deportation.”
“The Democrats need to stand strong,” said Center for American Progress head Neera Tanden.
Outside groups weren’t the only ones who were furious. A number of Senate Democratic offices felt that their leadership had led them into a situation where they had no good options, hurting moderates by forcing a shutdown and then hurting the entire party with its base by capitulating so fast.
More than a dozen Senate Democrats broke with party leaders to vote against the bill, including a number of potential presidential candidates, a sign they know exactly where the base is. While most of them declined to take shots at their leaders, they clearly weren’t happy with the sudden about-face, warning not to trust McConnell’s promises.
“I don’t believe he made any commitment whatsoever and I believe it would be foolhardy to believe he made a commitment,” Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) told reporters after the vote.
Red-state Democrats facing tough reelections this fall didn’t want the shutdown square-off over immigration in the first place. On the other side, liberal Democrats who gladly stood with party leaders on Friday weren’t happy they decided to cave on Monday, even as many went along on the vote.
“I’m so goddamn mad,” one senior aide to a Democratic senator who voted to reopen the government on Monday after voting against it on Friday. “We went to the mat to prove to DREAMers we would, without any clear plan for moving forward. And we ended up in a position where moderates realized that — too late — and forced us into giving up and reopening [the government].”
Other Democrats said said it was a losing fight from the start — one where they only could have won with a broad argument about GOP dysfunction hurting voters, not a specific one on immigration.
“Shutting down the government over any issue never works, and we put so much pressure on DACA being the reason that it lost the message narrative. This was our best way out,” another senior Senate Democratic aide told TPM. “The outside groups have to own this. Dreamer groups saw our messaging and then boxed us into a corner, we couldn’t say ‘these are all the things we’re fighting for.’ … We failed fast, that’s okay. Now we need to turn and pivot and do a better job of unifying around a message on their dysfunction.”
Democrats say the decision to bow out now lets them fight another day and hopefully get things right this time. But they admit they’re not out of the woods yet, warning that the original shutdown may hurt Democrats’ electoral prospects in 2018 both by temporarily sticking the red-state members with the shutdown and hurting base enthusiasm by quickly caving in.
Unless Democrats managed to secure the DREAM Act in the next few weeks — a long shot as the White House ruled out a compromise piece of bipartisan legislation immediately after the vote — they warned things might just get worse for the party.
“I have no idea what the end game is here,” said the first aide.
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