My speculation in a blogpost yesterday that Senate Democrats were willing to vote for a government shutdown on the DACA issue because of their great solidarity, built up for many years since their narrow capture of seven Senate seats in 1986, has been vindicated by their surrender on the shutdown today — sort of.
My argument was based on what was, in my view, the serious political weakness of their position, portrayed even in much of mainstream media as blocking funding for the government in favor of legalizing certain illegal immigrants. To maintain near total cohesion, in such circumstances, seemed to me a considerable achievement.
But it didn't last. It seems obvious that many Senate Democrats, especially from Trump-carried states, concluded it not just weak but untenable. We don’t know how many Democratic senators pressured Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to abandon the shutdown, but it was probably many; only 16 Democrats, all but two from heavily Democratic states, persisted in voting for it after he backed down — a much lower number than have been voting against confirmation of many routine Trump appointees.
There’s speculation in liberal Twitterland that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is not going to live up to his promise to bring legalization forward for recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. But why wouldn’t he? There is no way to pass — no way to get 60 Senate votes for — an immigration bill that includes the reforms to the system President Trump proposes (the wall, an end to chain migration and visa lottery, E-Verify, switching extended-family-reunification or chain-migration slots to skill-based). The only way to get such a bill is to use the leverage Trump enjoys by being willing to let the DACA executive order lapse without such a bill. What exactly can be negotiated remains to be seen. But McConnell has reason to bring forward such a bill, and he will have the leverage Trump supplied by extending the DACA executive order only until March 5. The pressure will be on Democrats, not Republicans, to agree to something before that.
And is there any doubt that the House would pass a bill passed by the Senate, or something easily conferenceable with it? I don’t think so.
Democrats based their shutdown strategy on the responses to one poll question: Should DACA recipients be legalized? Clear majorities are in favor. But there are or may be majorities also for many of the provisions Trump is seeking as well — not the wall, but on skills-based versus chain migration, the lottery, and E-Verify. It may prove hard to reach agreement on this. But as I see it, the leverage is on the Republicans’ side.