Since the Great Shutdown of 2018, there has been heated debate among activists, pundits, and elected officials over whether or not Democrats “caved” to Republicans.
The main argument in favor of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s strategy to reopen the government and kick the can down the road to February is that the Democrats only gained more leverage in doing so. The spending bill included desperately needed reauthorization for children’s healthcare, which is now something that Republicans can’t use as a political cudgel. And Democrats have a pledge from Mitch McConnell to vote on a DACA fix before funding expires again; even if it’s all a lie, as Ezra Klein pointed out at Vox, “if McConnell reneges on the deal, Democrats simply shut down the government in three weeks. They haven’t lost that leverage.”
There’s just one catch: all of this assumes that Democrats are willing to employ the full leverage at their disposal on DACA recipients in the first place, and that’s looking increasingly unlikely. On Sunday, The Washington Post published an interview with Schumer in which he blatantly started lowering expectations (emphasis mine):
After he agreed to reopen the government last week, Schumer admitted that any prolonged shutdown would likely work against Democratic interests, lowering the odds of it being used again. “You’ve got to be strategic and if things went too long, yeah, people might have turned against the dreamers,” Schumer said of the shutdown.
Schumer also told the Post, “We believe strongly in the dreamers, but we can’t just let that occupy the whole stage. We have to fight for middle class,” as if DACA recipients and the middle class could not be one and the same. This is in addition to the fact that Politico reported last week that Senate Democrats were willing to drop DACA demands from a budget deal. As Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin said on Tuesday, “We’re viewing [immigration and spending] on separate terms because they are on separate paths.”
This is precisely the reason why many immigration activists were enraged by the Democrats decision to reopen the government. It was an all-too-familiar move, fitting into a decades-old pattern of the party’s consistent unwillingness to go all-out to protect immigrants and DACA. As Osita Nwanevu wrote at Slate, even if a prolonged shutdown was unlikely to extract concessions from Republicans, “the Democrats would have both lifted the morale of the DACA enrollees who’ve been kicked around by this process and galvanized an activist base eager to see its representatives match their outrage and energy.”
At the same time, Democrats are set to parade DACA recipients at the State of the Union as a sign of how much they care.
While Democrats are happy to use DACA recipients as mascots, they are seemingly unwilling to expend any significant amount of political capital on them.