Congress moves to end government shutdown, but politics remain tricky for Democrats

Senate Democrats in Maryland and across the country faced a swift backlash from the left wing of their party Monday for voting to reopen the federal government without a guarantee to protect immigrants brought to the country as children.

After rallying around the budget brinkmanship as a way to shield so-called Dreamers from deportation, liberal groups accused Democratic senators of caving on a deal that provided few assurances the three-day government shutdown would lead to any change.

Congress moved quickly Monday to end the shutdown — the first since 2013 — after Senate Democrats agreed to a measure to open federal agencies through Feb. 8. President Donald J. Trump signed the measure Monday night, kicking off a new round of uncertain talks over a long-term solution on spending and immigration.

“I am pleased that Democrats in Congress have come to their senses,” Trump said in a statement. “As I've always said, once the government is funded, my administration will work toward solving the problem of very unfair illegal immigration.”

While both sides applauded the reopening of the government, the politics of the deal proved tricky for Democrats. As Trump and other Republicans claimed victory, national progressive leaders were livid the agreement failed to address the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA.

Honoring a campaign pledge, Trump ended that program in September, giving Congress until March to craft a law to renew it. Nationally about 700,000 people benefit from DACA. Although Maryland has a high share of immigrants, the state is home to only about 8,000 Dreamers, according to government data.

Maryland Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen — Democrats who represent a state where a prolonged shutdown would have had an outsized impact — supported the short-term spending bill. The Senate voted 81-18 to approve it.

Four Democratic House members from the state opposed it and two — Reps. John Delaney of Montgomery County and C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger of Baltimore County — voted for it. The House voted 266-150 to send the bill to the White House.

In exchange for moving forward on government funding, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said it is his “intention” to bring up an immigration bill in coming weeks.

“We all know what comes next — challenging negotiations on a host of serious issues,” McConnell said on the floor. “I hope that we can remember some lessons from this regrettable incident. Brinksmanship and hostage-taking do not work.”

But some Democrats — including a number of potential 2020 presidential candidates who voted against the measure in the Senate — balked at McConnell’s terms, noting he has made assurances for votes before that ultimately did not happen.

Neither the White House nor the Republican-led House, meanwhile, has made any pledge.

Trump said he would accept a long-term deal on immigration “if, and only if, it’s good for our country.”

“This is a bad, outrageous deal,” said Ilya Sheyman, executive director of the liberal MoveOn.org political action committee.

Some organizers in Maryland’s Indivisible movement — which sprang up in resistance to Trump’s election — said they, too, were disappointed by the result.

"A GOP pledge on immigration is less than what we had hoped our senators would be willing to fight for,” said Pat Costa, a co-organizer for the Catonsville Indivisibles.

Chris Pickett, executive director of Indivisible Montgomery, described several components of the agreement as positive, including the reauthorization of a children’s health program and the fact that the government would reopen.

Maryland is home to about 300,000 federal employees, many of whom would have been furloughed under a prolonged shutdown.

“But it is disappointing that Dreamers were not protected,” Pickett said in a statement. “Leader McConnell has not proven to be a good-faith negotiator in the past. We hope that Sens. Cardin, Van Hollen and the rest of the Democrats have a plan in place to protect the Dreamers for if and when McConnell reneges on this deal.”

Though the vote again exposed the rift between liberal and centrist Democrats, Cardin appears unlikely to face a blowback from the left in his reelection this year. While many Democrats may have wanted a stronger push on immigration, many others also likely supported reopening the government.

“Yes, DACA is very important to Democrats,” said Mileah Kromer, director of Goucher College’s Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center. “And so was getting the hundreds of thousands of Marylanders who work for the federal government back to work.”

Early national polls indicated the public was largely divided over whom to blame for the impasse.

For his part, Cardin said he believed the vote would clear the way to a broader agreement on spending, disaster aid and, eventually, immigration. In addition to McConnell’s verbal agreement, Cardin said he believes the politics are ultimately on the side of getting something done on immigration.

Polls have indicated wide support for protecting Dreamers, who have grown up in the United States and often have little connection to their native country.

“We knew from the beginning that there was a limit as to what we could achieve for the Dreamers” at this point, Cardin said. “I know there are a lot of Republicans who believe that if they don’t deal with this issue successfully it’s going to have a political consequence for Republicans.”

Van Hollen, who is leading the campaign arm of Senate Democrats, said he believes a bipartisan coalition in the Senate will agree to a DACA fix and that it would then take a “full-blown public pressure campaign” to move it through the House.

“The issue is, given where we are now: What’s the most realistic prospect of success? And I think a three-week government shutdown was not going to get the House Republicans to agree to a DACA fix,” Van Hollen said.

“So this is a more realistic road to getting it done.”

Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Montgomery County Democrat, voted against the short-term bill. Asked if progressive groups were justified in blaming Democrats — including Cardin and Van Hollen — for supporting the deal, Raskin said he thought the dynamic was different in the Senate.

“The Democrats in the Senate apparently extracted some kind of commitment from the Republican leadership to deal with the issues that are still on the table, but we never got that on the House side,” he said. “We got nothing.”

On the Senate floor, No. 2 Senate GOP leader John Cornyn of Texas said the Democrats “got nothing” for shutting down the government. Even though McConnell promised to take up the immigration bill by February, Cornyn added, “he was going to do that anyway.”

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

john.fritze@baltsun.com

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