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Will DACA Debate Force a Government Shutdown?

Will DACA Debate Force a Government Shutdown?

Congress must pass a spending deal by midnight this Friday to avoid a government shutdown, but Democrats are threatening to delay the vote until Congress reaches a deal that includes protections for DACA recipients (AKA “Dreamers”) ahead of the phaseout scheduled to begin in March.  

Negotiations were thrown into question last week when President Trump rejected the Senate’s first proposal and asked why so many people from “shithole countries” are coming to America. 

The comment, which Trump denied, has hardened positions on both sides. 

Congress has passed three short-term funding bills since the beginning of the fiscal year, which began on October first. This time, Democrats (and some Republicans) want to use the opportunity to allocate money for disaster relief, shore up Obamacare, and protect undocumented immigrations brought into the country as children.  

“If we don’t have any measurable progress towards a DACA deal I am not going to vote for a stopgap measure,” said Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), who represents a district that is mainly Latino. “We are in Congress and, regrettably, Congress is an institution that only acts when it’s forced to.” 

House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell say they won’t support a package that ties the spending deal to immigration reform. 

Senate Republicans will need at least nine Democratic votes to pass a spending bill, and they are hoping to gain support from Democrats facing re-election in states that supported Trump in 2016.

One of them – Joe Manchin (D-WV) – says he has little reason to want a shutdown. 

“Shame on any of us if we sit here and say, OK, we’re going to let it run out for the sake of politics and shut the government down. None of us even should be representing the good states that we represent, such as West Virginia and Colorado and Arkansas, if we allow that to happen,” said Manchin, who voted with Republicans in December when they passed a stopgap measure to keep the government operating.

Ten Democratic Senators facing re-election in November come from states that are heavily white and have little sympathy for illegal immigrants. With their support, Senate Republicans could pass another short-term spending bill in time to avoid a shutdown. But these lawmakers are under serious pressure to oppose any funding bill that does not include immigrant protections. 

“We are going to be telling Democrats the following: If you vote for a spending bill that does not include relief for Dreamers, you are voting for funds that will be used to deport Dreamers,” said Frank Sherry of America’s Voice, an immigrant rights group.  

A government shutdown could also cause trouble for Republicans. 

“Republicans cannot afford to shut down the government in one of the roughest midterm environments they’ve ever had. Democrats have the upper hand and they should play the upper hand,” argues former New York Rep. Steve Israel (D). 

Because Republicans control both chambers of Congress, they will likely be blamed for a shutdown even if Democrats block a spending plan that doesn’t include immigrant protections.

“To believe that you can successfully blame Democrats for a shutdown over the DACA debate is naïve,” said Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who co-authored the DACA proposal Trump rejected last week. 

Graham on Saturday urged Trump to show leadership and restraint. “I think the president realizes that it takes a bipartisan solution. But you’re not going to get a deal by tweeting, you’re going to get one by talking.”

The proposal offered by Graham and five others last week seems to be the most likely basis for compromise as lawmakers attempt to find common ground.

“[Graham’s proposal] is on the table as a starting point for the congressional conversations,” said Trump aide Marc Short. The proposal granted Dreamers a pathway to citizenship, but did little to end chain migration and included only 10% of the funds Trump requested for his border wall. It also eliminated the visa lottery, but made those visas available for undocumented immigrants formerly covered by the Temporary Protected Status program.    

Author’s Note: I see this as political theater. A shutdown represents a failure of Congress, but the actual impact on American lives is limited as long as the shutdown does not continue for an extended period of time. 

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