House Democrats are divided on whether to support a sweeping budget deal that includes a lot of their spending priorities but provides no path forward on immigration.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi held the House floor for eight hours Wednesday to make it clear that she wouldn’t support the deal without a commitment from Speaker Paul D. Ryan for an immigration vote that would be “bipartisan” and “transparent.”
Ryan has not offered such a commitment, but some House Democrats say they’re likely to vote for the budget deal anyway.
“We’re going to look through it, the staff is combing over it, etc., but I’m leaning towards a ‘yes’ vote on it,” said Connecticut Rep. John B. Larson, a former Democratic Caucus chairman. “But I’m also strongly in favor of a separate vote on DACA too, which we hope the Senate will deliver too through [Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell’s promises.”
Democrats are seeking to protect the so-called Dreamers, young undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, who could face deportation if Congress does not act to replace the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program, scheduled to end March 5.
Watch: Pelosi Holds House Floor Seeking DACA Commitment From Ryan
With bipartisan negotiations on immigration continuing to bear little fruit, many House Democrats saw an opportunity to leverage their votes on the budget deal for a commitment to an immigration vote in the House similar to one McConnell has offered the Senate — so long as the government remains open.
Some Democrats had begun talking about the leverage maneuver earlier this week but Pelosi didn’t officially sign on until Wednesday after a caucus meeting on the topic. With most of her caucus supporting that position, she went public, issuing a statement and holding the floor for a record-breaking eight-hour continuous speech.
But several Democrats noted her statement was carefully worded so as not to bind the entire caucus.
“Leader Pelosi has herself said the bill coming out of the Senate is a good bill, but we need some assurance from the speaker, Mr. Ryan, that we will be able to address and debate DACA,” Virginia Rep. Gerald E. Connolly said. “She hasn’t directly said, ‘If not one, then not the other.’ But she certainly has expressed her concern while blessing the content of the bill coming our way.”
That vagueness left some Democrats thinking Pelosi was effectively caving.
“She indicated that the caps was the new level. That has been decoupled. … ‘Just give me a vote on the Dreamers and we’ll have a separate vote.’ So don’t you see the mixed messages?” Illinois Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez said.
“That’s decoupling them so they’re no longer one and the same. So once you do that, you’ve basically said, ‘Vote your will.’ I am sorry that that’s the way I understand it. … But that’s what’s going to happen,” Gutiérrez added, noting he plans to vote against the bill.
Pelosi effectively confirmed she has no plans to whip against the spending bill, saying, “Members will do what they’ll do.”
Still, she said that in the 40 hours between 8 a.m. Wednesday when Democrats started meeting on their strategy and midnight Thursday when government funding ends, Democrats want “to make sure we do everything to try to get a vote.”
Votes not there?
Even without a firm whip, Pelosi may still have enough Democrats in her corner, Connolly predicted.
“I think right now the votes are not there to pass that bill collectively on the floor of the House,” the Virginia Democrat said of the continuing resolution to fund most federal agencies through March 23 that is to carry the budget deal. “I think Paul Ryan has a job to do in offering something to Democrats with respect to DACA and the Dreamers that is more than a vague promise, because if he doesn’t, I think we don’t maximize the Democratic vote for passage of this bill.”
Connolly would like a commitment for a vote to protect Dreamers, but said he will still support the spending bill because he doesn’t link it with immigration.
“This is not a good vehicle for forcing that issue, because our leverage is so limited frankly,” he said.
Connolly predicted that more than the 45 Democrats who voted for the Feb. 8 CR that ended a three-day government shutdown will back the budget deal but if Ryan needs significantly more votes — and he may because of GOP defections — he will have to offer Democrats something.
Many Democrats, like Rep. Rosa DeLauro, a longtime appropriator and Pelosi ally, said they wanted to review the contents of the budget deal before deciding how to vote.
“I haven’t even looked at it,” the Connecticut Democrat said. “I need to know where the changes in mandatory programs are. I need to know what the offsets are, whether they’re means-testing any. I need to look at what the details are. I don’t know where I’m going yet.”
Other Democrats came out opposed to the deal because of its contents, not the DACA issue.
“When it comes to the budget, both parties agree on only one thing: being irresponsible,” New York Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney said. “This isn’t compromise, it’s collusion. It’s not bipartisan, it’s a pay-off. This is drunken-sailor spending that comes right after Republicans in Washington put trillions in new debt on our country’s credit card.”
From the Archives: ‘It’s the Custom of the House to Hear the Leader’s Remarks’