Did Democrats lose their leverage on DACA?

In the end, the calendar won -- and that has some recalculating who will have leverage in January for negotiations on...

Posted: Dec. 22, 2017 11:41 AM
Updated: Dec. 22, 2017 11:41 AM

In the end, the calendar won -- and that has some recalculating who will have leverage in January for negotiations on immigration.

Congress finished up its business for the year Thursday night and left town without resolving major outstanding issues -- including a resolution for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which lawmakers had repeatedly pledged to fix before the end of the year.

Supporters note that more than 100 DACA recipients a day are losing status

Some think GOP will have more leverage as a March deadline approaches

Republicans voted to pass an extension of government funding through mid-January without acting on immigration, health care or disaster spending issues, pushing a showdown into January.

Some DACA advocates worry that by not forcing a government shutdown fight, they gave up leverage for next year.

"I think it's pretty evident that -- how do I say this kindly -- that there was some leverage potentially to do (DACA) this year, I think Nancy (Pelosi) and the Democrats kind of abandoned it," said Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida, who has long supported immigration reform. "But I'm still committed to getting it done and I think it will get done."

DACA protected from deportation young undocumented immigrants who came to the US as children. But after President Donald Trump decided to end the program, DACA permits are set to begin expiring in early March. So the closer talks get to that date, it could make Democrats more desperate to secure a fix, and they will have to swallow more concessions -- or at least so some Republicans hope.

"Yeah, I do have concerns about that," Sen. Kamala Harris, a California Democrat who's a leading progressive advocate for DACA in the Senate, said about the potential that a deal will get worse for supporters as negotiations slip into the new year.

Supporters also note that despite Trump's plan to have no permits expire before March by offering a renewal window, more than 20,000 DACA recipients were either unable or unwilling to renew, meaning an average of 122 of them are losing their protections every day. Moreover, experts have expressed concern that any replacement program will take time to establish, resulting in potential gaps in protections the later it gets.

Harris noted the daily number of individuals losing status and living with the fear of possible deportation and inability to work.

"These timelines are not theoretical," she said. "There is literally a consequence each day we don't get it done."

Her concerns were echoed by Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Florida, who has been pushing hard in the House for a compromise on DACA.

"I think the later it gets on this issue, the more difficult it will be to put together a workable compromise for everyone," Curbelo said.

Negotiations continue

Negotiations will continue during the holiday break on possible solutions such as pairing a DACA fix with conservative asks like border security, interior enforcement and some elements of immigration reform. On the Senate side, Democratic Whip Dick Durbin's bipartisan working group will continue to meet, likely by phone, according to a source familiar.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, pledged Wednesday to call a bill to the floor if the working group can reach a deal that's acceptable to both sides.

On the House side, bipartisan talks have made substantial progress and the result of those efforts could be introduced in January, when lawmakers are looking to move a deal, though House leadership has not committed to endorse any of those efforts.

One Republican aide said that if lawmakers can reach a compromise in the time the continuing budget resolution buys them, leverage won't change much from the end of December. But closer to March is less forgiving for Democrats.

"I don't think it's a victory for either side. It epitomizes what Congress does best, which is kicking the can down the road," the aide said on condition of anonymity in order to speak candidly. "Now, if we manage to kick it down the road past January 19, maybe the dynamic changes."

Sending a message

Democrats hope that the strong show of force against the continuing resolution -- which passed the House with only 13 Democrats and lost 16 Republicans, and passed the Senate with 32 Democratic no votes -- will send a message to Republicans that they will have to negotiate in January.

As lawmakers had faced the possibility of a government shutdown over Christmas, Republicans who have had major opposition to various elements of government funding mostly agreed to punt the issue to January. But Democrats expect that the next go-round, they will not be so willing, and Republicans will have to come asking for Democratic votes.

"I think we end up being in a better position, because they cannot hold their caucus," said Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego of Arizona. "At some point, the Freedom Caucus and the sort of conservative hawks will end up revolting against a CR, and that's why we need to stay strong, in the House and in the Senate."

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus, of which Gallego is a member, made a last-minute march to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer's office on Thursday to urge him to hold his caucus against the continuing resolution. While it was never expected that Democrats would deny the House-passed CR the votes it needed, especially with vulnerable red state Democrats up for re-election, the hope was that a strong showing of no votes would help send a message to Republicans.

"It keeps the momentum, and I think as we get into more complicated issues like the (spending) cap and others, that presence is just going to get stronger and stronger, because internally they're going to get to the same point that Boehner was at and Ryan's been at trying to hold those groups," said Rep. Raul Grijalva, an Arizona Democrat, referring to former House Speaker John Boehner and current Speaker Paul Ryan.

"I think it'll intensify and become more urgent and bitter, period," Grijalva added of January's new deadline. "There's no way to go but it getting more bitter."

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