Bowing to the reality that their party might well lose the blame game this time for the nascent government shutdown, Democrats have backed down, agreeing on Monday to support a continuing resolution to fund the federal government for 17 days that does not include the DACA fix they had been demanding. Instead, Democrats settled for accepting a promise from Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) that he will address the immigration issue in February. The shutdown is thus set to end after less than three days. 81 Senators voted for the bill, including 33 Democrats.
This is a victory McConnell and his fellow Republicans thought would be relatively routine as recently as one week ago. But for Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), it was a failed gambit and embarrassing defeat. Schumer attempted to save face by subduing his normally combative tone and embracing bipartisanship in a speech on the Senate floor, emphasizing McConnell’s commitment to address DACA (Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals) next month. But not before Schumer took the opportunity to criticize Trump for remaining aloof since their White House meeting last Friday.
Though the DACA issue will arise again when this new temporary spending measure expires on February 8, it appears unlikely that the Democrats would re-state their ill-fated demand to include DACA in subsequent budget resolutions. These short-term CR’s, as they are known, have become standard operating procedure in Congress because of the long-standing inability or unwillingness of the two parties to agree on annual budgets.
In the end, while McConnell won by forcing Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to back down from his demand, the biggest beneficiary of this bill is President Trump, for while congressional Republicans are all over the map on immigration, Trump most certainly is not. Immigration has been a defining issue for him since he rode down the escalator at Trump Tower, and he has now succeeded in achieving his major short-term strategic objective – to separate DACA from the budget, and include it instead in the larger negotiation on immigration.
Indeed, DACA is just one component of immigration reform, and most significantly, the only reform valued by Democrats. Since it was not included in today’s continuing resolution, the Dems will now be forced to get what they want on DACA in upcoming immigration reform negotiations. In order to do so, they will have to give Trump and the GOP much of what they want on the three issues of significance to them – border security (including but not limited to the big, beautiful wall), the diversity visa lottery and chain migration.
While border security is the issue that most animates Trump, congressional Republicans – and even some Democrats – are as committed as the President to terminating or significantly reforming chain migration and the diversity visa lottery, after both programs were scarred by terrorist attacks late in 2017. In October, an Uzbeki who entered the US via the Diversity Visa Lottery, Sayfullo Saipov, killed eight people and injured 11 others in New York City. And in December, Akayed Ullah of Bangladesh attempted a terrorist attack after entering the country in 2011 via chain migration, the program which allows even distant relatives of legal residents to immigrate to the US.
So in the first showdown serious showdown of a midterm election year, the PR battle between the “Schumer Shutdown” and the competing “Trump Shutdown,” has been won by Trump and the GOP. By re-opening the government and maintaining their leverage in negotiations on immigration reform, they have won a potentially pivotal battle in a long war.