Hispanic members unload on Dem leaders at ‘tense’ meeting
Hispanic lawmakers grilled Democratic leaders on Tuesday about the party’s strategy to protect so-called “Dreamers” — and walked away with tensions still running high and divisions deep.
With the next government funding deadline a little more than a week away, Democrats don’t have the appetite for another shutdown but they also don’t agree on what leverage they have to force Republicans into serious talks about a solution for Dreamers.
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"Very tense and stressful" was how Rep. Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-Calif.) described the meeting between the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and Democratic leaders from both chambers. “A lot of us are very concerned about what is going to happen with Dreamers and what the pathway is to get them the protections that they deserve and need.”
The gathering was the first opportunity since the shutdown for House members to vent to Senate Democratic leaders about the direction of stalled negotiations.
Congressional leaders haven’t made much headway on a deal to fund the federal government as lawmakers careen toward another deadline to pass a spending bill on Feb. 8. And immigration talks remain at a near standstill after a White House framework released late last week was rejected by members on both sides.
One member described the CHC meeting with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) as “testy.” Other lawmakers said they left the confab feeling like Democratic leaders still don’t have a cohesive strategy on immigration and are worried that the House will be forced into accepting whatever Senate leaders agree to next week to keep the government open.
Just a week ago, Democrats backed down after a three-day government shutdown, with little to show in return. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) vowed to move forward on immigration legislation in the coming weeks, but what the measure might contain remains unclear.
Many House Democrats were furious that Schumer agreed to the plan with McConnell, saying a Senate deal on immigration matters little if there’s no commitment from Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to bring up the bill in the House.
Senate Democrats further enraged their House colleagues last week when they signaled openness to decoupling negotiations on a long-term spending deal with discussions about the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which grants work permits to undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children.
Negotiations on spending levels for defense and domestic programs — the first step to writing a long-term funding bill — have been stalled for months as Democrats have insisted that any deal be accompanied by a DACA solution.
But with the possibility that Senate Democrats could agree to a deal on spending caps — and speculation that could get attached to a short-term funding bill next week — House Democrats worry they’re giving up their biggest point of leverage with little to show for it.
Meanwhile, House Democrats continue to insist the two issues remain linked.
“It’s tough to keep everybody lined up if we’re not really clear what’s the best strategy,” said CHC Chair Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-N.M.). “One thing we don’t want to see play out is separate strategies that don’t seem to related to a win in the end.”
With no clear route forward in the House, Hispanic lawmakers questioned how Schumer intends to pass legislation with the threat of a shutdown seemingly off the table.
“I’m sure it was something that he didn’t want to hear, but frankly, I’m hearing it from people in the community that they feel that the Senate Democratic leadership is turning their backs on them,” said Barragán.
She added that a recent Schumer remark to the Washington Post — he said Dreamers shouldn’t “occupy the whole stage” of policy issues — “doesn’t send the proper message” and “only adds to the tension.”
“I disagree with the way in which he made that statement,” Lujan Grisham added.
Other members also took issue with Schumer’s comment but said it reflects similar things he’s said privately about the Dreamers not needing to be the primary focus of ongoing spending talks.
Schumer’s office declined to comment.
Around twenty lawmakers attended the meeting, which included Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the second-highest ranking Democrats in the House and Senate.
Hoyer, who acknowledged the frustration in the room, said the differences stem partly from varying strategies in the House and Senate, but that the goals remain the same.
“There’s a unity of commitment,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any Democrat who’s not for protecting Dreamers and a pathway to citizenship.”
Beyond an immigration fix, Hoyer also mentioned the need to deal with other “must pass” issues, such as disaster relief funding for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and funding for community health centers.
But privately, CHC members said they don’t see how Democrats can negotiate a DACA deal effectively if the House and Senate leaders are operating on two different playing fields.
The session also gave caucus members the chance to unleash pent-up frustration over Schumer’s hasty retreat in the shutdown fight.
“Democrats, we’re good at fighting and I think we’re also good at mending fences,” said Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), one of the most outspoken members of the CHC who blasted the Senate deal to end the shutdown last week. “That’s what we’re doing here — we’re trying to figure out a way forward.”
But some members openly questioned whether Democrats had a plan at all. Rep. Filemon Vela (D-Texas), a member of the CHC, didn’t attend the meeting but had harsh words for how Democrats are handling the immigration problem.
“There’s no question the Democratic strategy has been lost,” he said. “I think it’s one hot mess. But it’s not just a hot mess on the Democratic side, it’s a hot mess on the Republican side. And then it’s just a hot mess all the way around.”
January 30, 2018 at 06:33PM