House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s record-long speech Wednesday in defense of Dreamers elicited both praise and fury from Democrats, splitting her caucus ahead of a government funding showdown.
For eight hours, standing in four-inch heels, sparingly sipping water, Pelosi shared stories of undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, and vowed to vote against the bipartisan two-year budget bill unless House Speaker Paul Ryan promised a vote on immigration. She never received the commitment, but her speech — an exercise meant to signal her resolve not only to Republicans but her members — appeared successful in quelling cries from the base.
“I heard from grassroots activists across the country that it struck a nerve,” Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif. said of Pelosi’s speech. “There was a tremendous amount of frustration, a sense that Congress was not doing enough. That moment sent a message of moral clarity.”
The fact that Pelosi, after more than 20 years in Congress, Khanna said, chose that moment to use her privilege as the party leader to take the floor for eight hours, “showed her commitment to the issue.”
But the looming budget vote leaves Democrats in a tough spot and leaders are providing little answers. Pelosi’s speech didn’t help those who want to vote for the deal, and a number of Democrats felt isolated by it.
“It split the caucus and put people in a box,” one House Democrat said on the condition of anonymity to speak more freely. “People were furious last night.”
Pelosi spokesman Drew Hamill shot back that “anonymous quotes accomplish absolutely nothing.”
“Sometimes it’s worth making it crystal clear to the American people where our caucus stands,” Hammill said. “The leader has received an overwhelming response from our members and from across the country. The contrast from today couldn’t be clearer: only Speaker Ryan stands in the way of protecting our nation’s Dreamers.”
Some Democrats were angry about any deal funding the federal government without providing a solution for those who benefit from Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
“Anyone who votes for the Senate budget deal is colluding with this President and this Administration to deport Dreamers,” Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., said in a statement. “As Democrats, we have to stand on principle and now is the time for some courage.”
“It is not enough to ask Speaker Ryan for open debate on the issue or to hope that Senator McConnell allows a fair and open process to consider the Dream Act,” said Gutierrez in what appeared a veiled jab at Pelosi’s request of Ryan.
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus hinted at the split in the caucus a day before Pelosi’s, speech. Some saying that it would be difficult for members to explain a no vote on a budget bill that includes a number of Democratic priorities to constituents back home.
Pressure from both ends of the Democratic caucus increased Thursday as some 140 immigration advocates marched into Pelosi’s Washington office pressuring her to aggressively whip all Democrats to vote against the budget deal.
.@NancyPelosi we need you to whip your party to PUBLICLY #holdtheline more than we need you to stand in cute shoes for 8 hrs sharing our stories for us. #dreamactnow @UNITEDWEDREAM— Mayra Hidalgo Salazar (@soymayrahidalgo) February 8, 2018
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., issued a whip notice, asking members how they planned to vote on the bill, and urging them to vote no.
“Unlike in the Senate, there is no agreement that the House will even consider legislation to protect DREAMers,” the notice said. “By leaving this vital issue unresolved, this package leaves DREAMers isolated, without a path to resolution in the House.”
An hour later, Pelosi sent a “Dear Colleague” letter to her caucus, reiterating her plan to vote against the bill.
“The Republicans do not have the votes to pass this caps bill on their own,” Pelosi said. “House Democrats have a voice here and we must be heard. These are the reasons I am voting against this bill.”
But Pelosi did not explicitly urge her caucus to vote against the bill during her remarks, providing plenty of room to Democrats who want to vote yes without fear of retribution.
Rep. Sheila Jackson, Lee D-Texas, who sat behind Pelosi for hours during her speech, defended the leader’s stance, arguing it took over the “national and international” stage.
“It launched DACA into the face of Republicans who refuse to be representatives of the nation’ it’s on them,” Jackson Lee said. “This is not going to be a pleasant experience no matter what happens.”
Jackson Lee added that House Speaker Paul Ryan doesn’t bring immigration proposals providing relief for the 800,000 DACA recipients to the floor, Republicans will be “choosing party and power over the nation.”
“If that is the case then we will make the case every day,” she said. “And more and more as we move toward a vote in November that [Democrats] will speaking to the American people about the leadership in this House.”
Though Democrats insist Republicans will own the fate of the Dreamers if a solution is not reached, liberal activists and immigration advocates have warned Democrats that they are fed up. Democratic leaders are engaged in a balancing act: The need to show the base they are committed to helping Dreamers without isolating red-state Democrats by holding up legislation benefiting voters in districts they are trying to flip.
A number of Democratic senators, including Sens. Kamala Harris and Cory Booker, have said they plan to vote against the budget bill because it doesn’t address Dreamers. But if the bill passes with strong support from Democrats in the Senate, it will likely embolden a number of House Democrats to vote for it.