Originally published by Politico
Democratic leaders are facing a potential revolt within their ranks as they edge toward a deal with Republicans that would protect Dreamers from deportation but also include concessions to conservatives that many Democratic lawmakers say are unacceptable.
Senate negotiators say they’re inching toward a bipartisan deal that broadly mirrors the parameters laid out during a meeting this week between lawmakers and President Donald Trump at the White House. They include ensuring legal status for Dreamers, strengthening border security and making changes to both family-based migration and the diversity lottery.
But many Democrats, particularly in the House, are horrified that their leaders would even agree to discuss issues beyond legal status for Dreamers and limited measures to curb illegal immigration. The concerns span multiple factions of the Democratic conference, and, combined with opposition from Republican immigration hard-liners, they could put passage of a DACA deal at risk.
During a tense meeting Tuesday night, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and other top Democrats were dressed down by rank-and-file Democrats over the talks.
“We’re willing to give a little when it comes to border security, but we’re not willing to give away the whole hog and farm,” said Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus who attended the meeting.
He and other Democrats in the opposition camp argue that wide-scale changes to family-based sponsorship laws and the visa lottery should be discussed only as part of a broader immigration deal.
“I believe we need to pass a ‘clean’ Dream Act,” Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) said. “If we’re going to talk about, you know, all these other factors, then let’s just talk about comprehensive immigration reform.”
Several House liberals worry that Democratic senators, led by Minority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois, will strike a bad deal and force them to swallow it.
The tensions couldn’t come at a worse time for Democrats. Liberals and members of the minority caucuses — particularly the CHC and the Congressional Black Caucus — are urging their leadership to stand firm and resist the push from Republicans and some Senate Democrats to negotiate on items outside the scope of Dreamers and border security.
But moderates and vulnerable members in competitive districts are hungry for a deal and willing to openly entertain the controversial changes. Not to mention that Republicans in the White House and in both chambers of Congress have agreed those were the parameters of the talks and have been negotiating accordingly.
The drama has implications beyond the roughly 700,000 young undocumented immigrants who could face deportation after Trump decided to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
Securing a DACA agreement is the key to advancing broader talks to fund the government beyond the upcoming Jan. 19 deadline. Democrats have said they won’t agree to a deal on spending caps — a necessary first step to writing a long-term funding bill — before both sides reach a solution on Dreamers, opening the door to a potential government shutdown.
“Honestly,” said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), “I don’t think the Democrats are interested in a budget cap agreement until we reach some resolution on DACA.”
Key Democrats are sympathetic to the furor from their left flank but aware something needs to pass Congress that can win Trump’s signature. Senate negotiators believe their emerging agreement — which they say they’re getting close to finalizing — will lose votes from the right and left, representing true concessions from both parties.
Durbin heard the complaints firsthand from members of the minority caucuses when he met with them Tuesday, and he acknowledged the internal party pushback.
“We talked in the most general terms about the issues that we’re facing. And there’s controversy associated with them. There’s no question,” Durbin said. “Believe me, we hear them loud and clear.”
On Wednesday, more details began to surface about the tentative plan from senators, a main group of five lawmakers who recently added a sixth — Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) — to their ranks.
To address conservative concerns about “chain migration,” the senators are proposing that undocumented parents who brought a child to the United States illegally would not be able to access a pathway to citizenship based on being sponsored by their children, said Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.). But the parents of Dreamers would be able to obtain a three-year provisional legal status that could be renewed, Flake said.
“We’ve got to get to 60 votes. In order to get 60 votes, you’ve got to get a bipartisan bill,” Flake said. “I don’t see any other game in town.”
Some of the fiercest Democratic resistance to the emerging plan is coming from members of the Congressional Black Caucus, who are among the biggest proponents on Capitol Hill of the diversity visa lottery. The program doles out green cards for people from countries with lower rates of immigration to the United States, so it covers a lot of African and Caribbean immigrants.
Senators are considering effectively nixing the lottery and reallocating those visas to a separate program being terminated by the Trump administration aiding immigrants from countries facing natural disasters or civil strife. Countries affected so far by Trump’s ending of Temporary Protected Status include El Salvador, Nicaragua, Haiti and Sudan.
While members of the CHC publicly say they will reject any deal that kills the visa lottery program, privately some members have said they’re open to the idea if the Temporary Protected Status is saved. But that plan doesn’t sit well with members of the CBC, who maintain they’re dedicated to saving the Dreamers but not at the expense of losing the visa lottery.
“It would be a line in the sand,” said one Democratic aide familiar with the situation. “Totally unacceptable.”
Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.) was particularly vocal about the issue during the meeting with Democratic leaders Tuesday night. The CBC also discussed the topic at the group’s weekly lunch Wednesday. In a pre-emptive attempt to head off a Democratic rebellion, Pelosi met with Clarke and leaders of the CBC on Wednesday in an effort to soothe tensions.
Still, some on the left are preparing to embrace a DACA deal they may not like, as the clock winds down toward Dreamers losing their legal protections en masse. That’s despite a federal ruling Tuesday night that ordered the Trump administration to partially revive the Obama-era executive action.
“It’s not a direction I’d like to go in. On the other hand, we have a sense of urgency about the DACA participants,” said Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), a proponent of maintaining family-based immigration policy. “In spite of the recent ruling in California’s district court, it’s just a preliminary injunction, and that can be lifted. So I feel a sense of urgency.”
It’s still unclear whether the House could pass a Senate-approved DACA deal, even if a majority of Democrats hold their nose and vote for the plan.
Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said he expects Democrats and Republicans to embrace a bipartisan DACA deal by the end of the week — but one he said his like-minded allies are unlikely to support.
Asked whether such a package earning Trump’s support might affect how the deal is received, Meadows said conservatives might abandon the president over such a move.
“I don’t expect that,” he said. “But if that were to happen, this is one of the few issues that could create some daylight between the president and the grass roots.”