House Democrats left a Thursday night caucus meeting just as split on a bipartisan budget deal as they were entering it.
Democratic leaders plan to vote against the measure, which would fund the government through March 23 and outlines a grand omnibus deal agreed to earlier this week, because it doesn’t address the 800,000 so-called Dreamers whose legal status remains in limbo. But even as Pelosi works to pressure House Speaker Paul Ryan for a vote on immigration, she isn't actively pushing members to vote against it.
As Democrats exited the two-hour meeting, the rift was clear: A large number plan to vote against the bill over Dreamers or the deficit, but a significant number are leaning "yes" due to provisions that provides some money for disaster-stricken regions and combating the opioid epidemic.
“They’re not pressuring us to vote one way or another,” said Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., who plans to vote against the bill over the deficit.
Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky., who will vote for the bill, said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told members to “vote the way you have to vote.”
The government limped toward a brief, partial government shutdown Thursday night as one Republican senator held up the short-term spending bill. But even assuming passage in the Senate, it remains unclear if the House will have the votes. Conservatives have vowed to vote against the bill, forcing Republican leaders to turn to Democrats for help in an attempt to stave off what could be a second government shutdown in a matter of hours. But how many Democrats they need will determine if the votes are there to pass it. If Republicans need 75 Democrats, Yarmuth predicted, “that might be questionable.”
If Republicans need 40 Democrats, that’s “probably doable,” Yarmuth said, noting that there was “almost no resistance to the actual budget deal” in the caucus meeting. Many thought it was a “good deal,” even if they planned to vote against it in defense of the 800,000 recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program that President Trump moved to kill last year.
Yarmuth admitted that the push by leaders – namely Pelosi’s 8-hour speech on the floor dedicated to Dreamers – wouldn’t sit well in some states.
“My concern was that that made this whole issue about DACA, when for several weeks, we've been saying it wasn't just about DACA, we have all these other priorities,” Yarmuth said.
Those leaning towards "yes" primarily cited the money going to health centers, and the $80 billion for disaster relief, but acknowledged that the vote will be difficult.
“I’m voting yes because I think it’s the right vote,” said Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-N.J. “I ran on immigration 22 years ago, so I don’t want to be lectured about immigration or DACA.”
Pascrell didn’t hold Pelosi’s positioning on the bill against her, however. “The leader is doing exactly what I would do if I was the leader, [but] I disagree with her 100 percent.”
Though there appear to be enough Democrats ready to join Republicans to pass the budget deal, there’s “real tension” within the caucus, one House Democrat said.
Both the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus are being pulled in multiple directions. Rep. Cedric Richmond, chair of the CBC, said he likely won’t whip members, who met separately after the full Democratic caucus meeting.
Those opposing the bill were vocal during the meeting, according to multiple members. Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., said he told his colleagues in red states who are afraid of voting against the bill for fear of answering to angry constituents back home that Dreamers facing deportation are equally afraid.
“There are 800,000 Dreamers, and their families afraid right now. There’s 800,000 people afraid of being deported back to countries that they know nothing of,” Gallego said. “When you think you’re afraid, remember this.”
Unlike Yarmuth, Gallego predicted Republicans wouldn’t get enough Democrats to help pass the bill. “They’re going to have to rely very heavily on enough of their votes,” he said.
Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., who is against the budget deal, warned this could be the last pressure point Democrats have to push House Speaker Paul Ryan to commit to bringing immigration proposals addressing DACA recipients up for a vote.
“If we don’t get a vote now, when are we going to get one,” Ellison said. “This is the last train leaving the station; this is our last chance to make sure we get a DACA vote.”
As the clock wound down Thursday night, Democratic leaders called for some extra time. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters after the caucus meeting that he wants a 24-hour spending bill to keep the government open overnight. It is unlikely Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., will support it.
The Senate is poised to vote around 1 a.m. after Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., held the floor and objected to McConnell's push to move to a vote earlier in the evening over lifting spending caps in the budget agreement, which he says is not fiscally responsible. Paul’s objection is expected to push the government into a short, partial shutdown.
After the bill likely passes the Senate with bipartisan support, the House is expected to vote hours later early on Friday.