A top Demo­crat steps up gov­ern­ment shut­down fight over fate of ‘dream­ers’

Durbin says he will vote against spend­ing bill if sta­tus isn’t re­solved

The Washington Post - - POLITICS & THE NATION - BY ED O’KEEFE AND SEAN SUL­LI­VAN ed.okeefe@wash­post.com sean.sul­li­van@wash­post.com

A top Se­nate Demo­crat said Wed­nes­day that he will vote against any spend­ing bill in the com­ing weeks if Congress has failed to ad­dress the fate of young im­mi­grants — rais­ing the stakes in a loom­ing show­down with the White House and Repub­li­cans over a po­ten­tial gov­ern­ment shut­down.

Sen. Richard J. Durbin (Ill.), the sec­ond-rank­ing Se­nate Demo­crat and a lead ne­go­tia­tor on spend­ing mat­ters, said he is en­cour­ag­ing his col­leagues to join him in block­ing spend­ing leg­is­la­tion if the le­gal sta­tus of “dream­ers” isn’t re­solved. Pres­i­dent Trump an­nounced in Septem­ber that he will end the Obama-era De­ferred Ac­tion for Child­hood Arrivals pro­gram in early March, putting hundreds of thou­sands of dream­ers — im­mi­grants brought to the United States as chil­dren — at risk of de­por­ta­tion early next year.

“That’s my po­si­tion. There’s too much at stake here. We can’t let this to slip into Jan­uary, Fe­bru­ary with a March 5 dead­line. It should be done, it can be done, eas­ily, sim­ply and quickly,” Durbin said in an in­ter­view.

Durbin has re­peat­edly said in re­cent months that Congress needs to re­solve the sta­tus of dream­ers by the end of the year, but he is now the high­est-rank­ing Demo­cratic se­na­tor to raise the specter of a gov­ern­ment shut­down sparked by an im­passe over im­mi­gra­tion.

For months, Repub­li­cans have said the fate of dream­ers can only be re­solved if new border se­cu­rity mea­sures are also en­acted. In the in­ter­view, Durbin ac­cused Repub­li­cans of fail­ing to present vi­able border se­cu­rity op­tions, say­ing in­stead they con­tinue to present a laun­dry list of con­ser­va­tive pro­pos­als, in­clud­ing plans to re­write the def­i­ni­tion of asy­lum seek­ers.

“I do be­lieve in the last few days that more Repub­li­cans be­lieve us,” Durbin said, be­cause Democrats have made clear ad­dress­ing the fate of dream­ers is “a must­pass item.”

“I don’t want a shut­down. I didn’t come here to shut down any­thing,” he added. “What I want to do is get this done and I think peo­ple in good faith can get it done.”

By vow­ing to with­hold his sup­port for a spend­ing mea­sure ab­sent an im­mi­gra­tion deal, Durbin is in a camp with four other Demo­cratic sen­a­tors, all of whom are po­ten­tial pres­i­den­tial hope­fuls, and dozens of House Democrats.

His pos­ture has the po­ten­tial to deepen an emerg­ing rift among con­gres­sional Democrats, since he is go­ing fur­ther than other top lead­ers. Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Mi­nor­ity Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) have vowed to use all av­enues to strike a deal for dream­ers as part of a spend­ing bill, with­out is­su­ing the same ex­plicit threat as Durbin, as they con­front divi­sions in the rank and file. The ma­jor­ity of Se­nate Democrats have not made the same threat as Durbin, while many be­lieve a ma­jor­ity of House Democrats agree with him.

Fac­ing a Dec. 8 dead­line for when gov­ern­ment fund­ing will run out, Repub­li­cans and Democrats are dead­locked on how much money the fed­eral gov­ern­ment should spend in the com­ing years and over how to set­tle sev­eral press­ing con­cerns re­gard­ing im­mi­gra­tion, health care and disas­ter aid for storm-rav­aged states.

Repub­li­cans are hop­ing to reach an agree­ment on a stop­gap bill that ex­tends gov­ern­ment fund­ing into 2018 to buy more time for ne­go­ti­a­tions, but they have con­ceded they will prob­a­bly need Demo­cratic votes to help pass any spend­ing bill be­cause of po­ten­tial op­po­si­tion from con­ser­va­tives in the House and be­cause Se­nate Democrats can fil­i­buster spend­ing leg­is­la­tion.

With just over a week un­til the dead­line, GOP lead­ers are set to meet on Thurs­day to dis­cuss op­tions on how to pro­ceed, mul­ti­ple aides said. They are mulling one or two stop­gap bills that could stretch into Jan­uary, said the aides, who were granted anonymity to speak frankly about the dis­cus­sions. It re­mains un­clear whether such stop­gaps would ad­dress im­mi­gra­tion, but so far, Repub­li­can lead­ers have been re­sis­tant to pair­ing the is­sues.

Durbin’s com­ments sig­naled that the Demo­cratic po­si­tion on im­mi­gra­tion is hard­en­ing. He is a long­time ad­vo­cate for over­haul­ing im­mi­gra­tion laws and top spon­sor of the Dream Act, a bi­par­ti­san bill that he said he wants in­cluded in the fi­nal spend­ing agree­ment.

The bill would per­mit more than 780,000 el­i­gi­ble im­mi­grants brought to the United States as young chil­dren to be­gin the process of ap­ply­ing for U.S. cit­i­zen­ship. The mea­sure has four GOP co-spon­sors in the Se­nate and is sup­ported by a hand­ful of House Repub­li­cans. Two other bi­par­ti­san Se­nate bills and sim­i­lar leg­is­la­tion in the House, all fronted by GOP law­mak­ers, would es­tab­lish rules for cit­i­zen­ship for el­i­gi­ble dream­ers.

“I’ll put my cards on the ta­ble — this is an easy prob­lem to solve,” Durbin said.

Durbin’s po­si­tion is shared by at least four mem­bers of his cau­cus — Sens. Ka­mala D. Har­ris (D-Calif.), El­iz­a­beth War­ren (DMass.), Cory Booker (D-N. J.) and Bernie San­ders (I-Vt.).

Dozens of House Democrats, led by mem­bers of the Con­gres­sional His­panic Cau­cus, are in agree­ment with the five sen­a­tors, and Durbin said, “I’ve en­cour­aged them to take a strong po­si­tion on this and to hold it.”

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