Gang of 30

Democrats’ Bold Fold Shifts the Pressure Onto Trump and His GOP Enablers

Democrats freed 9 million child hostages. Republicans got a Willie Horton ad.


Aaron Bernstein/Reuters

Well, the #TrumpShutdown ended Monday with no DACA deal, and the Democratic base is understandably furious. But this is the beginning of the fight for immigration fairness and the DREAMers, not the end. And Democrats actually got some things out of round one.

The deal struck by Senate moderates—a new “gang of 30” if you will—reopens the government, preventing misery and financial strain for thousands of federal workers. It also secures a “promise,” for what that’s worth, from Mitch McConnell to allow open, bipartisan negotiations on an immigration deal to be voted on by Feb. 8, when the current funding bill expires.

That may not sound like much, and any Democrat who wants to run for president in 2020 was smart to vote against it, but the deal is actually more than it appears to be. Here are three reasons why:

It freed 9 million kids the GOP was holding hostage

Monday’s deal took the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, off the table. On Thursday, South Dakota Republican Sen. Mike Rounds made an interesting admission to NBC’s Chuck Todd about the program that Republicans had cynically allowed to run out of money nearly three months ago. “Under the current proposal,” Rounds said, “CHIP is now off the table because it’s been extended for a period of six years. And so then what is the next bargaining chip that brings Democrats to the table?” That’s exactly where the GOP finds itself now. As one blogger at the Daily Kos cleverly put it: Dems free 8.9M child hostages from kidnappers; 690K adults still being held as negotiations continue.

Without CHIP in the mix, as Eric Boehlert pointed out on Twitter, the next round of negotiations will be “clean” from a messaging point of view in that it will be all about the DREAMers. No longer can McConnell, Paul Ryan, the Trump administration, and other Republicans claim that Democrats are harming “our” children for the sake of “illegal immigrants”—the outrageous and sub-rosa racist frame adopted by the GOP during this past week’s debacle.

It puts McConnell on the spot

McConnell is now on the hook to follow through on the deal he made. Sure, it would defy his demonstrated proclivity for hyper-partisanship and plain old chicanery to do so, but unlike past instances like health care or the tax bill or the stolen Supreme Court seat where he could lock Democrats out of the room with impunity due to the 50-plus-1 vote threshold available to him, in this case the 60-vote rule applies. If McConnell goes back on his word, the consequences would be a second shutdown, with Democrats having demonstrated a willingness to let it happen.

And with activists already steaming mad at the Democratic moderates, the next shutdown would almost certainly be long and brutal, with Democrats risking primaries if they didn’t stick it out.

Moreover, polls consistently showed that most voters—nearly half—blamed Donald Trump and the Republicans for the shutdown, while less than 1 in 3 blamed Democrats. Even Trump, per The Washington Post, apparently realized that he was getting blamed (he loves Twitter so surely he saw #TrumpShutdown trending), and was unsure of what to do about it. Which brings us to reason number three that the current situation is better than Democratic activists think.

It’s now Trump and the crazy right vs. everyone else

All of the reporting heading into the shutdown made it plain: Donald Trump caused the shutdown by suddenly backing out of a deal with Lindsey Graham and Dick Durbin at the behest of thirtysomething alt-right-ist Stephen Miller and increasingly sinister White House chief of staff, John Kelly. Joe Scarborough even made a point of mocking Trump as being “led around” by Miller Monday morning. Trump then waffled on what to do, sunk into a mood, and evidently played no part in ending the crisis. In the meantime, his re-election campaign put out a cartoonishly racist Willie Horton-style ad that further isolates him.

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Democratic leaders clearly understood that the longer the shutdown went on, the more the racialized, manipulative “us vs. them,” military vs. “the illegals” framing by the GOP stood a chance of firing up the Republican base. And make no mistake: The more fired up the base became, the less likely spineless Capitol Hill Republicans were going to be to make a DACA deal. By getting out now, Democrats preserve their bargaining position on DREAMers with the other side exposed for trying to conflate them with a supposed criminal horde.

In round two of this fight, everyone will know that Trump is a bit player. He is too poor a negotiator to get the things he wants and that he promised his xenophobic base. Even his new golfing buddy Sen. Graham has made it clear that there will be no bill ending so-called chain migration (better known as family reunification that creates community ties and stability rather than loneliness and isolation among immigrants that would actually make them more susceptible to extremist indoctrination, not less).

There is very likely to be some form of DACA deal in the Senate, since Republicans have already gone on record saying they’re for it, and Trump can’t do anything to prevent it. And if the Senate comes up with a bill broad enough to pass by a veto-proof majority, it won’t matter if Trump wants to veto it. He can go play golf or hang out at Mar-a-Lago and take Tom Cotton along and no one will care.

The real action now moves to the Senate, the House, and the streets. The questions on the table:

Can Senate Democrats deliver for a base whose demands are now on level 10?

Will activists stay engaged and keep pushing Democrats to make a morally acceptable deal?

Does Paul Ryan have the guts to stand up to what’s sure to be a right-wing media full freakout and put a popular immigration bill on the floor and wave the ridiculous “Hastert rule” so Nancy Pelosi can do his job for him and provide enough votes for it to pass?

And do Republican voters stay home in droves if it passes and Trump signs it into law?

In short, buckle up. It’s going to be a long war.