Dems eye payback against Trump’s immigration tactics
Democrats say they’re no longer willing to throw cash to President Donald Trump for his border demands.
But they still can’t escape making a deal with Trump — a scenario that could divide the caucus over exactly how far to take their fight against the president.
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Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) are preparing to rebuff Trump’s requests for additional wall money this month as payback for Trump’s summer of hard-line immigration moves — a position that’s in contrast to the billions of dollars that Democrats have handed over for border fencing and security since the start of Trump’s term, according to half a dozen lawmakers and aides.
The end result of the border wall fight, however, could be another deal with Trump that triggers a fierce backlash within the Democratic Caucus, as Pelosi and her leadership team remain wary of aggressive tactics that would catapult the government into yet another shutdown.
And the border battle is just one of many divisive issues Pelosi and her deputies will confront this month, including action on guns after a spate of mass shootings and fallout from the impeachment push that gained significant traction within the caucus over the break.
“The reality is, this fall is a critical period,” Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.) said of the caucus’s lengthy to-do list, which could also include stalled legislation on health care and trade. “Spending an extended period of time with my constituents, it’s pretty obvious they just want us to get this stuff done.”
Democratic leaders are weighing their options to block any more cash for the wall, wary of intensifying an ugly clash over the border wall and immigration that could shape the 2020 race.
If they don’t challenge Trump on the wall and immigration, though, Democrats will likely face the wrath of their base, which is livid after high-profile immigration raids and new policies like unlimited detention of migrants or deporting sick immigrants.
“There is a greater and greater sense in the Democratic Party that any support of the administration’s policies is giving cover to moral wrongdoing,” said Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), adding that Democrats should insist on providing zero new money for the wall, even as the White House has found ways to circumvent Congress to secure billions for the wall by shifting funds away from military construction projects.
But a funding fight over border security also risks exposing divides within the Democratic party — reigniting an emotional debate that nearly tore the caucus apart earlier this summer. And those tensions could complicate Democrats’ efforts to complete their packed fall agenda.
“I don’t think that people are cruising for a bruising this September. I get the impression that people are trying to work things out,” said Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.). “I suppose we’re at a time where anything can happen. But I don’t see or hear reason to think there’s a blowup in September.”
Pelosi and her deputies will face a maze of other demands from their caucus in the short three-week stretch of September, before lawmakers leave town again for two weeks to celebrate Jewish holidays.
This fall is seen as the final shot for some of Democrats’ longtime legislative priorities — like a massive drug pricing bill that has vexed the caucus for months — before public attention drifts to the 2020 presidential contest.
For many moderates, it may be the last chance to finish negotiations on a trade pact with Mexico and Canada. And for progressives, there will be a hard push to advance impeachment proceedings before the start of the election year — a move that a majority of House Democrats now support.
But it could be immigration that consumes much of the caucus’s energy ahead of the Sept. 30 funding deadline. Trump’s wall is also expected to be a sticking point in a separate must-pass defense policy bill this fall.
The House plans to pass a “clean” short-term bill this month that will keep the government open until sometime around Thanksgiving — a move aimed at buying more time while House and Senate leaders negotiate a broader funding package.
But it’s unclear if Senate Republicans — at the behest of Trump — will agree to any funding bill that omits more money for Trump’s border wall. House Democrats, too, will have to unite their caucus behind a status quo funding bill that continues to fund Trump’s border agencies.
Any deal between Trump and Democrats on border security funding this fall will be tougher for many progressives to stomach after watching from afar as the White House implemented some of its most drastic action yet on immigration.
August began with massive ICE raids at workplaces in Mississippi that led to hundreds of arrests, followed by a crackdown on green cards for immigrants who have used public aid like food stamps.
Then the White House announced it was nixing the so-called “Flores settlement” — a landmark policy that ensured migrant children couldn’t be detained indefinitely.
At the same time, the Pentagon formalized its plan to raid $3.6 billion from military projects. Dozens of Democrats have been left fuming as billions of dollars are sucked out of their home districts from sites like West Point Academy in New York, an elementary school for service members’ families in Kentucky and a cybersecurity facility in Virginia. Even Republican Sens. Mitt Romney and Mike Lee railed against the money grab.
“I think after everything that’s happened, there’s going to be a lot more interest in taking a more dramatic step,” said Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky), referring to funding of contentious agencies like Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“We’re not going to be in much of a mood to respond to [Department of Homeland Security] requests and the administration’s requests,” the House Budget Committee chairman said in an interview.
“We need to stand firm on this. I am certainly going to urge my leadership to stay at $0 and I hope we stay at $0,” added Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), a member of the House spending panel.
But Democrats also acknowledge the tough balance of taking a hard line against Trump, without allowing government funding to lapse.
“I think we need to focus on making sure we don’t have a government shutdown,” Cuellar said.
This year’s fight, of course, comes with particularly high stakes. Trump has just one more chance to persuade Congress to fully fund his border wall before the apex of his 2020 campaign.
Trump and his circle of supporters are desperate to complete what he’s promised will be a 500-mile barrier along the southern border by November 2020. So far, the White House has secured about 60 miles of replacement barrier — with not a single mile in a place that didn’t previously have fencing.
“Hopefully, he won’t say he wants ‘X amount of dollars for the fence, otherwise we’re going to have a shutdown.’ I don’t think people want to have another shutdown,” Cuellar said. “A lot is going to depend on how much emphasis the president is going to put on the wall.”