House Democrats face tough choice over budget deal and immigration

As lawmakers announced a budget deal that would address many of the issues stymieing Washington -- with the key excep...

Posted: Feb. 8, 2018 9:59 AM
Updated: Feb. 8, 2018 9:59 AM

As lawmakers announced a budget deal that would address many of the issues stymieing Washington -- with the key exception of immigration -- House Democrats on Wednesday were feeling the heat.

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi took to the House floor Wednesday -- and held it for a record-breaking length of time of over eight hours -- to warn she would not support the burgeoning deal without a commitment from House Speaker Paul Ryan that the Republican-controlled House would hold a debate and vote on immigration legislation as his Senate counterpart Mitch McConnell has pledged, setting up a potential standoff.

The two-year deal that leadership announced on the Senate floor would set domestic and defense spending levels, push back the debt limit and resolve some outstanding issues Democrats have pushed for like support for community health centers and disaster relief money.

But left out of the deal would be a resolution for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, which Trump is ending -- and House Democrats have long been steadfast that they would not support government funding without it.

The Senate is close, nevertheless, to sending the deal to the House with a continuing resolution that would fund the government into March, squeezing Democrats to risk rejecting a budget compromise over DACA alone, a position they have sought to avoid. Democratic votes in the House haven't been necessary to pass continuing resolutions this year, but a number of House conservatives are expected to oppose the budget deal because of the domestic spending levels. That will force Democrats' hand.

"The budget caps agreement includes many Democratic priorities," Pelosi said in a statement. "This morning, we took a measure of our caucus because the package does nothing to advance bipartisan legislation to protect Dreamers in the House. Without a commitment from Speaker Ryan comparable to the commitment from Leader McConnell, this package does not have my support."

Some Democrats were already backing up Pelosi as the deal was announced Wednesday afternoon.

Rep. Eric Swalwell of California said that while he supports a DACA fix, his concern was more about the size of the deal.

"I still have a real problem dramatically increasing the caps, adding to the deficit, when we just added $2 trillion for the tax plan. So if (Republicans) want to roll back their tax cuts so that we don't have such a deep, deep deficit, I would be more receptive to that," Swalwell said.

Congressional Hispanic Caucus member and Democratic Rep. Nanette Diaz Barrag-n of California said Democrats should not accept a funding deal without what they've asked for.

"No, I think that we aren't using all the leverage we have and that's a disappointment and I won't support it," she said. "We as a caucus have talked about making this one of our leverage points and using this as a leverage point. I hope that we continue to do that."

But the objection wasn't universal, and the mood in a House Democratic caucus meeting this morning that convinced Pelosi to speak on the floor was split, according to a Democrat in the meeting. Some were "understandably upset" about not including DACA recipients and there was "generally a lot of frustration."

But others raised questions, asking, "What is our plan? What is our message? How are we going to win this?" After the last shutdown members are still unclear on the path forward and expect the Senate to pass this, leaving them little room. The source said there is a lot in the deal that many Democrats support, including the increase in domestic programs.

This source told CNN that "a lot of people are going to vote for it. It's not a situation where we can hold all our members."

At a House Democratic retreat Wednesday afternoon, lawmakers said they hadn't seen the proposal yet and weren't sure how the party would go.

Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island described the difficulty Democrats will face, saying that they sent a list of priorities to Republican leaders and it could be tough to reject a deal with the majority of them included.

"Just from the reporting that we're hearing, many of those (priorities) have been addressed," he said. "We're continuing to press to be sure that we have an opportunity to address the Dreamer issue. But I think we listed six things and it may be that five of them are addressed in this, so then the decision will have to be made by colleagues whether five out of six are enough or whether or not it's important to demonstrate that we're not willing to move forward without the Dream Act."

It's unclear if Democratic leadership will whip against the bill. Asked Wednesday if leadership is instructing its members any particular way, House Democratic Caucus Chairman Joe Crowley demurred.

"People in our caucus will do what they think is in the best interests of their constituents and for the country," the New York Democrat said.

Cicilline said he believed it would be an individual choice, and California's Rep. Linda S-nchez, a member of Democratic leadership, told CNN she wasn't sure yet if the caucus will whip. She said that personally, she still needed to study what finally passes but it "likely would promise some big challenges for me."

Crowley also didn't commit to supporting or rejecting the deal.

"There is more to this deal than the issue of immigration," he said, referencing the disaster relief money, in particular. "It is very complex. This is much more to this than simply one-off issues. And we'll have to look at that in totality."

One advocacy group was already putting pressure on Democrats to reject the deal. Frank Sharry, executive director of the pro-immigration America's Voice, said in a statement that Democrats must vote against the deal to prove their commitment to DACA recipients.

"If you believe in a solution for Dreamers, oppose any spending bill that does not include Dreamer relief," Sharry said. "Insist that a solution be included in this must-pass spending bill. Anything less will be a vote for funds that could be used to detain and deport Dreamers at the hands of Trump's turbocharged deportation force. For Democrats, the seriousness of your commitment to Dreamers will be revealed by this vote."

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