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DACA negotiations test Democrats' relationship with progressive base

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An Associated Press report published Thursday illustrated the renewed pressure Democrats are facing as they consider how to proceed on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Embroiled in negotiations over the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, Democrats are approaching a difficult decision.

They can force a government shutdown, appeasing their progressive base, or agree to a deal with Republicans that would include protections for Dreamers in exchange for border wall funding, a move that would wildly inflame the base. This, of course, is all in the context of a midterm election year during the tenure of a Republican president who prevailed in states where Democrats are defending key Senate seats.

Tellingly, even amid intense pressure from grassroots progressives to oppose a stopgap spending bill that did not include DACA protections last month, seven of the 10 Senate Democrats facing re-election in states the president won ultimately voted for the measure. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., on the other hand, reversed course to vote against it after taking some heat from a primary opponent.

An Associated Press report published Thursday illustrated the renewed pressure Democrats are facing as they consider how to proceed on DACA:

Groups such as MoveOn are threatening to champion primary challenges against incumbents who don’t fight hard enough for these young immigrants ...
The liberal organization CREDO is pledging to block campaign cash from uncooperative Democrats. The pro-immigration United We Dream is preparing a new wave of camera-friendly protests at the Capitol and outside congressional Democrats’ offices nationwide.
“The unity and trust between the grassroots and elected Democrats is rapidly eroding. It could turn ugly if this goes on any further,” said Ben Wikler, MoveOn’s Washington director.

In a meeting late last month, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., "assured Hispanic lawmakers that Democrats 'will lay it all on the line' to protect Dreamers," Rep. Darren Soto, D-Fla. told the AP.

But, as they appear to know, a shutdown could seriously jeopardize the re-election prospects of upper chamber legislators such as Sens. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Joe Donnelly, D-Ind. — seats Democrats need to retain leverage during Trump's presidency. Furthermore, a resurgence of the radical "Resistance," resulting in the raised profile of anti-Trump extremists in Trump-friendly states, could be even worse for Democrats who risk being tied to groups that may have influence in Feinstein's race, but not in McCaskill's.

None of this is to say DACA negotiations don't carry risks for Republicans. But the work of Democrats who have sought to paper over simmering internal divisions and insist the party is fully united could get much more difficult over the next two weeks.