Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York) caved big time on the weekend’s government shutdown. Not only did he get nothing for the Dreamers – immigrants brought here illegally as children and who President Donald Trump wants deported – beyond a vague promise to consider the issue later, he also offered to give up opposition to Trump’s border wall but got bupkiss in return.
Trump was sidelined by all parties in the negotiations, relegating him to tweets and framing the debate as a choice between “our military, border patrol, first responders” and illegal immigrants.
The best the Democrats could do was a public promise from the cagey and unreliable Republican majority leader Mitch McConnell that he’d allow debate and votes on immigration issues next month. But that’s virtually worthless because there’s no comparable commitment from the House.
In a time-honored congressional tradition, this was another bipartisan agreement to kick the proverbial can down the road. Briefly. The battle may be fought all over again February 8.
Jews are not the only target of the intensifying GOP anti-immigrant obsession, but Jewish leaders here understand that the rage and hatred Trump and the Republican leadership are working so hard to inflame will, if unchecked, ultimately threaten every minority group.
Jewish activists demonstrated on Capitol Hill in support of the Dreamers last week. Among the groups represented were the Religious Action Center of the Reform movement, Bend the Arc and the Anti-Defamation League. Several rabbis and other protesters were arrested by Capitol Hill police.
The vast majority of Americans may support the Dreamers but in the White House and the Republican Congress the anti-immigration hardliners are calling the shots. Trump spent the weekend in the White House inciting anti-immigrant bigotry. Aides released a picture of him wearing a ball cap and passively waiting at his desk for the phone to ring. He surfaced late Monday to take credit for ending the impasse.
Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders may have touted his hands-on leadership in the crisis, but there is no evidence to support the contention. The fact he didn’t speak to a single Democrat tells more than his flack does.
Trump had initially agreed to deals with Democratic leaders Schumer and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, but quickly reneged under pressure from extremists on his staff, notably Stephen Miller and chief of staff John Kelly. Then a bipartisan group of Senate moderates brought him a new proposal that he initially said he liked, but the hardliners blindsided the moderates in a meeting that erupted into obscenities.
Any hope of avoiding a shutdown blew up when the president infamously called predominately black countries of the Caribbean and Africa “shitholes.”
McConnell, who was not part of those talks, admitted that he had no idea what the president wanted or what he would sign, leading to the shut-down.
Even if McConnell lets a bill come to the floor next month, it will be dead on arrival in the House, where Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) is under pressure from arch-conservatives led by the Freedom Caucus, and a rule that bars bringing any legislation to the floor unless it has the support of a majority of Republicans.
Polls may show the overwhelming majority of Americans want to protect the Dreamers, but not those in deep red congressional districts.
Republicans facing voters this fall are terrified that the anti-immigration forces in their party, big donors, the alt-right and conservative talk media will retaliate on any concessions to the moderates by viciously attacking them and fielding primary challengers to their Right.
They remember what happened House majority leader Eric Cantor (R-Virginia), the highest-ranking Jew in House history, in 2014.
Despite outspending his opponent tenfold he was defeated in the GOP primary by an opponent on the farther Right, Dave Brat, who accused him of not being tough enough on immigration.
This week’s deal to end the shutdown was crafted by moderates in both parties. The president was relegated to punching out mean tweets, phoning friends and channel surfing while others did the heavy lifting.
Senators on both sides of the aisle consider him unreliable, inconsistent and often confused about what he wanted or where he stood. He has failed to articulate his position or understand the nuances. Schumer said negotiating with Trump was “like negotiating with Jell-O.”
In a televised White House meeting the self-proclaimed world’s greatest deal maker told participants that whatever solution they come up with, he’ll sign. Hardly a leader with deep convictions.
This was a setback for Democrats. They allowed the government to shut down, let Republicans frame the conflict and got nothing for the Dreamers beyond unreliable promises from McConnell and less than that from House Republicans.
Vice President Mike Pence broke a longstanding tradition of leaving partisan politics at home this week when on at least one stop on his Middle East diplomatic tour he told US troops that Democrats were holding up their paychecks and benefits by shutting down the government.
Democrats overestimated their leverage and can expect to be hit hard on this as Republicans take this issue to their racist, xenophobic base. They’ve already cut the first ad, saying Democrats will have blood on their hands in any killings by illegal aliens. It will be Willy Horton redux.
Mainstream Jewish groups here, traditionally strong advocates for generous immigration policies, weighed in heavily in support of protecting the Dreamers. Beneath their statements is a deeper concern that the Trump administration, with the willing backing of the Republican congressional leadership, is ratcheting up efforts to inflame anti-immigration sentiment for partisan reasons. And that can’t possibly be good for a Jewish community that too often is the target of the same forces that are responding with such enthusiasm to the GOP anti-immigrant frenzy.