Hopeful Democrats on Tuesday rejected assessments their party bungled a partial government shutdown forced to win protections for “Dreamers,” illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as young children.
Some public opinion polling conducted after the Senate Democrats’ aborted three-day shutdown got underway showed them with a narrow advantage on the question of who deserved blame — them, Republicans, or President Trump — and whether it was reasonable to leverage a must-pass spending bill to secure immigration concessions.
Some insiders sided with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York. They argued the shutdown made it more likely that Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress would grant permanent legal status to the approximately 800,000 individuals who participated in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
“They handled this about as well as they could given the fact that Republicans control the legislative agenda. They live to fight another day,” said Jim Manley, a Democratic operative and former Senate leadership aide.
A fresh poll of adults from NBC News and SurveyMonkey revealed that 39 percent blamed Democrats for the shutdown. But 38 percent blamed Trump, and another 18 percent blamed his party in Congress. Among self-identified political independents, a crucial voting block in the midterm elections, 48 percent blamed Trump.
A Morning Consult/Politico survey of registered voters showed support increasing for the Democrats’ strategy of forcing a government shutdown to secure passage of DACA legislation. During the two days prior, voters were split at 42 percent for and against the tactic; during the shutdown’s first two days, support jumped to 47 percent, with 38 percent opposing.
“We’re a lot better off today when it comes to the cause of Dreamers than we were four or five days ago,” Schumer told reporters.
The catcalls from Republicans, but also liberal activists, rained down on Senate Democrats after they aborted the shutdown after three days with nothing more to show for it than a gentleman’s agreement with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
If legislation protecting Dreamers doesn’t clear the Senate by Feb. 8, when the spending bill that was passed Monday to re-open the government expires, McConnell committed to put legislation on the floor and allow an open debate and amendment process. The agreement is not binding.
Additionally, under the terms of McConnell’s promise, Senate Democrats are theoretically precluded from forcing another shutdown.
Republican aides emphasized that McConnell’s agreement only holds if Democrats provide the necessary votes to keep the government open three weeks hence, if a long-term agreement on spending hasn’t been reached beforehand. Senate rules require 60 votes for spending bills, and the Republican majority controls only 51 seats.
Dreamers are up against a March 5 deadline, when the program is fully phased out and participants would all be at heightened risk of deportation. Progressives are angry with Senate Democrats for ending the government shutdown with such a tight timeline, saying McConnell, and more broadly, Trump and House Republicans, can’t be trusted to deliver on an issue that is not a priority for them.
Even some of the Democrats who voted to end the government shutdown on Monday were hesitant to take a victory lap, conceding that the path forward was uncertain. “I don’t know him enough to say I trust him,” Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., said, when asked if he believes McConnell would follow through.
The president and Republicans in Congress were generally viewed as the winners of the government shutdown, a nearly 72-hour event during which they hammered Democrats as caring more about illegal immigrants than American citizens.
That has emboldened both to drive a hard bargain going forward — tough border security measures and immigration reforms, in exchange for protections for only the Dreamers who participated in DACA, a legally questionable program implemented by former President Barack Obama.
That could put Democrats in a tight spot, especially with a March deadline.
Their base, already unhappy that the party relented on the government shutdown, might look unkindly if they let Trump dictate the terms of a deal to legalize Dreamers. Meanwhile, although Trump has expressed a desire to protect them from deportation, as have a majority of House Republicans, it’s unclear if it’s a priority.
In a statement, the Republican Study Committee, a caucus of House conservatives, said: "We oppose any process for a DACA solution that favors a backroom deal with Democrats over regular order in the House."
Al Weaver contributed to this report.