2020 Dems pose a big dilemma for Schumer

2020 Dems pose a big dilemma for Schumer

BY ALEXANDER BOLTON AND AMIE PARNES   |   The Hill

Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer’s (N.Y.) efforts to unify Democrats and prevent a shutdown are complicated by lawmakers with presidential hopes who are pushing for a hard-line stance against any short-term spending measure that doesn’t protect certain young immigrants from deportation.

Senate Democrats such as Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kirsten Gillibrandof New York and Kamala Harris of California have signaled they will not support a short-term spending bill that leaves the fate of these immigrants, often called Dreamers, up in the air.

All three potential presidential candidates, along with two others, Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), voted against a recent four-week spending stopgap that did not address the plight of recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

They argue that taking a principled stand won’t hurt Democrats in tough races because there’s strong bipartisan support for protecting Dreamers.

One Democrat close to Harris said the senator is open to a deal, “but she wants to see what it looks like.”

“She has said she wouldn’t vote for any spending bill without DACA being addressed,” the Democrat said. “She’s open to bipartisan negotiation, but she’s not going to vote for a bill until DACA is addressed beforehand.”

After all, the Democrat added, “it’s up to Republicans. They control the House, the Senate and the White House. It’s their job to fund the government.”

Democrats up for reelection in states won by President Trump in 2016 have sung a different tune.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D), who saw Trump win his home state of West Virginia by 42 points, says he won’t vote against a short-term spending measure that doesn’t include legislation to replace DACA.

“We’re trying to find [a deal], but shutting down the government is not going to help them,” Manchin told reporters Tuesday.

Democratic aides brush off any sense of friction, saying Schumer’s job isn’t really that tough on the issue because Republicans will take the blame for a shutdown given their control of both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.

Senior Democratic leadership aides are trying to assure jittery incumbents. They emphasize that Trump’s combustible remarks — he told officials at a White House meeting last week that the United States shouldn’t take more immigrants from “shithole countries” — are giving them more leverage in the blame game.

“At this point, the blame for any catastrophe this week is squarely on the president’s back,” said a Democratic leadership aide. “Senate Democrats have been reasonable, we compromised on the wall, on chain migration, and ended the diversity lottery in a bipartisan deal.”

A bipartisan group of senators including Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) and Republican Sens. Jeff Flake (Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.) plan to introduce a compromise immigration bill Wednesday. The legislation, however, failed to win Trump’s support last week.

Democrats won a victory the last time the government shut down in 2013 because of a fight over ObamaCare, but the present situation poses more risk.

Control of the Senate in 2019 depends on the reelection of 10 Democrats in states that voted for Trump, including Indiana, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota and West Virginia.

Some allied Democratic strategists agree with leadership aides who predict that vulnerable centrists have little to fear because Republicans would likely take the blame for a shutdown.

“I think fundamentally this is a bigger problem for Republicans than it is for Democrats,” said Jon Selib, a Democratic strategist who served as chief of staff to then-Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.).

He believes a shutdown over immigration would pose a bigger problem for Sen. Dean Heller, a vulnerable Republican whose home state of Nevada has a large Hispanic population, than any Democrat up for reelection.

“How would you like to be Dean Heller this week? He’s pinched up against a Hispanic constituency who has proven to turn out and vote and a hard-right-wing base. It’s a really difficult issue for him,” Selib said.

But some Democratic strategists warn that a high-profile fight over immigration is not a smart fight in the states that will determine the next Senate majority.

They say candidates such as Sens. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Heidi Heitkamp(D-N.D.) and Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) are better off debating the recently passed tax-reform bill, which polls suggest is unpopular and seen as tilted toward the rich.

“They’ve got to get back to the issues that impact constituents in their states,” said Steve Jarding, a Democratic strategist and former senior adviser to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “If immigration is not a big issue in their state, why end up talking about it?”

A survey released Tuesday by Hart Research Associates, a Democratic polling firm, showed a majority of respondents in 12 Senate battleground states want to protect Dreamers from deportation and would see Trump and congressional Republicans as more to blame for a shutdown.

Democrats fighting for their political lives aren’t in the mood to take any chances.

Donnelly, who is up for reelection in a state that gave Trump a 19-point margin of victory over Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, said Monday that “Congress needs to do its job and work in a bipartisan way to keep the government open and find a solution to protect DACA youth.”

Tester last month called threatening a government shutdown to gain leverage on immigration “stupid talk.”

“You don’t want to shut the government down,” he warned.

And Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) of Missouri, a state Trump won by nearly 20 points, warned her leadership not to draw a line in the sand over immigration. She also expressed some frustration with the influence of presidential politics.

“We’ve got people running for president all trying to find their base, and then you’ve got people from Trump states that are trying to continue to legislate the way we always have — by negotiation,” she said.

Schumer is also under pressure from activists who were outraged that the December spending bill tiptoed around the immigration debate.

More than a dozen Democratic lawmakers in the Congressional Hispanic Caucus marched over to Schumer’s office in the Capitol last month to ask why he wasn’t rallying his caucus to vote down the spending measure.

Twenty-nine Democrats and Sanders — more than half the Senate Democratic caucus — ended up voting against the measure.

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