(Bloomberg) -- For Democrats, the recriminations began even before the final votes were cast to end the three-day government shutdown -- hinting at divisions that could complicate their efforts in November’s congressional races.
Most of the blame fell squarely on Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, who was assailed by party colleagues for accepting a Republican offer on immigration that fell far short of Democratic demands.
“Why do Democrats always fall into some stupid trap,” asked Representative Louise Slaughter, a New York Democrat. “We’re taking a great hit. Totally unjustified. And our people just seem to take it flat-footed.”
Slaughter was one of many liberals who unloaded on Schumer’s decision to go to the brink with the shutdown only to step back without gaining any meaningful concessions in a key policy area for the party in an election year.
Democrats have banked on President Donald Trump’s low approval ratings and their own enthusiastic base to yield big gains in Congress in the midterm elections, including a possible majority in the House. Party operatives and activists had hoped for the shutdown to represent a watershed moment in Democrats’ battle over immigration. Now, they hope it will be a distant memory come November.
“The bottom line for us is that Democrats caved. I don’t see how anyone could characterize it as anything but that,” said Angel Padilla, policy director of Indivisible, a grassroots group that has grown from opposition to Trump. “I don’t see what they got out of this.”
While the funding vote came with one Democrat policy ask -- a funding extension for the Children’s Health Insurance Plan -- it included only a verbal agreement that the Senate would try to take action on immigration legislation. There was no commitment to restore protections for the some 690,000 young immigrants as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, comes to an end in early March.
Trump quickly seized on the deal to claim victory.
“Big win for Republicans as Democrats cave on Shutdown,” Trump said in a tweet on Monday. “Now I want a big win for everyone, including Republicans, Democrats and DACA, but especially for our Great Military and Border Security. Should be able to get there. See you at the negotiating table!”
Since another short-term funding bill was passed in December, progressive and pro-immigration activists had been pressuring Democratic lawmakers to refuse to fund the government without getting an agreement on DACA. The vast majority of House and Senate Democrats did just that on Friday, but by Monday it was largely the left flank of the party that voted against reopening the government. That group included several senators who’ve been discussed as possible 2020 presidential candidates, including Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
‘Kicks the Can’
“This simply kicks the can down the road with no assurance that we will protect Dreamers from deportation or fight Republican attempts to curtail or eliminate legal immigration,” Illinois Representative Luis Gutierrez said in a statement. “This shows me that when it comes to immigrants, Latinos and their families, Democrats are still not willing to go to the mat to allow people in my community to live in our country legally.”
Billionaire donor Tom Steyer, who’s pledged to spend $30 million this year helping turn out Democratic voters, vented in a statement. "Democrats need to ask themselves: what do they really care about — human beings or irrelevant political grandstanding? If the answer isn’t people, then are we any better?"
Democrats still have to prove that they’re going to fight the Republicans on issues that affect working families, said Stephanie Taylor, the co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. If Democrats continue to back down from fights "it’s gonna drag down the Democratic tickets as a whole" she said.
A poll conducted for Senate Majority PAC in December in 12 battleground states found voters in more conservative states dividing blame for a shutdown among Trump and both parties in Congress. If told a shutdown was be linked to the status of DACA recipients, those polled assigned more of the blame to Democrats. The Washington Post reported the poll on Sunday.
"I hear our numbers are dropping like a rock because, supposedly, we closed the government down," Slaughter said, without pointing to any specific polls.
Some Democrats said Schumer handled the situation well.
"He made the best possible of an inherently weak hand," said Matt Miller, who was communications director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee when Schumer was its chairman.
It was worth going into a shutdown “on the chance you might pressure Trump into a deal,” but a longer shutdown didn’t make sense once clear that Republicans weren’t going to budge on DACA, Miller said. “Politically, Democrats have the wind at their backs so why juggle a live grenade that might go off in their face and change the dynamic?”
Faiz Shakir, the ACLU’s National Political Director, said it didn’t “feel like there was a great exit strategy in place before entering into this.” He said he worries the Democratic leadership had erred not just by appearing to fold Monday, but by appearing to agree to separate the DACA issue from must-pass spending bills, and conceding in negotiations they’d be willing to give the president funding for a border wall.
"The jury is essentially out" on questions of Schumer’s leadership abilities, Shakir said, adding that it was fair to reserve judgment to see if the Senate’s top Democrat would be able to secure protection for dreamers before the DACA program expires in March.
Senator Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat up for re-election this fall, said he wasn’t surprised that activists were upset with lawmakers from their party who voted to end the government shutdown.
“People are not going to be happy. People weren’t happy with the shutdown, people weren’t happy with the vote last week, they’re not happy with the vote today,” he said. “These are big, tough, challenging issues and I understand that there are going to be folks that don’t like it.”
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