I participated in a thread this morning that reminded me how little I actually knew about how we got to this shutdown impasse, which is generally being described in the press as being about an Obama-era policy called DACA. Fox News is tending to frame the impasse in Trump’s terms: “Democrats are holding our Military hostage over their desire to have unchecked illegal immigration.”
So I looked back through the record to put the revelant facts into context. In case you’re looking for relevant facts in context, too, I’ve summarized the highlights below.
Dreamers and DACA
The story more or less begins in 2001 with a House bill that would have provided a pathway to citizenship for some children brought to U.S. illegally by their parents. This idea had its ups and downs, but in 2010 it passed the House as the bipartisan DREAM Act before falling five votes short of the required super-majority in the Senate.
Two years later, President Obama used an Executive Order to implement the functions of the DREAM Act in a policy called DACA, or Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals) within U.S. immigration enforcement. Under DACA, roughly 800,000 qualifying children of illegal immigrants applied for legal work permits and renewable two-year deferrals from deportation.
Trump ends DACA, Dems issue warning
On September 5, 2017, Trump and Attorney General Sessions announced that they would be phasing out the program, but the White House gave the policy a six-month extension and called on Congress to reach a legislative solution. Given The DREAM Act’s bipartisan support and recent polls suggesting that 87 percent of Americans favored a path to citizenship for these young Americans, a rare bipartisan solution looked possible. Meanwhile, participants in the DACA program began losing their legal status as early as October, as individual permits expired.
Two days after the DACA announcement, with the government on the brink of running out of money, every Democrat in the Senate voted in favor of a continuing resolution to keep the government running. The short-term spending bill did not include a solution to the DACA problem. In the days and weeks that followed, multiple Democrats announced that they would not vote for another temporary spending bill until Republicans allowed a vote on a DACA/Dreamers solution.
Democrats also threatened to pull their support for the next short-term spending bill if Republicans didn’t provide funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), a bill that provided insurance for some children whose parents could not insure them. Republicans had allowed the program’s funding to expire in late September, ignoring Democratic protests.
On Dec. 21st, Republicans put forward another short-term spending measure (necessary, because House Speaker Ryan failed to even begin the 2017 federal budget process, much less pass a budget). The bill funded CHIP through March, but offered no solution for the Dreamers. Again, enough Democrats voted in favor of the measure to keep the government open, but this time 17 of them refused, citing the lack of progress toward a Dreamer bill and a long-term solution for CHIP.
January: Trump waffles
On Tuesday, Jan. 9, Trump held a televised meeting and said he was flexible on immigration, telling conservative lawmakers to work up a compromise with Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin and “I’ll sign it.” He also promised to “take the heat” personally for the deal.
Later that evening a federal judge ruled against the Trump administration’s plan to end DACA. The administration responded by asking the Supreme Court to intervene immediately.
Meanwhile, Durbin met with a bipartisan group of five other senators and reached a deal with four provisions: 1. Protection for the Dreamers; 2. More border security improvements; 3. A provision allowing some U.S. citizens to sponsor relatives for citizenship, and a “diversity visa lottery.” The lottery distributes 50k visas to applicants from poor countries, such as Haiti.
On Thursday, Jan. 11, Trump called Durbin and asked if he had a deal to present and if Sen. Lindsey Graham was on board with it. Durbin said yes to both, and Trump invited the senators to come to the White House and present it to him.
Thursday, Jan. 11: Ambush
But as Durbin and Graham prepared for their afternoon meeting at the White House, Presidential Adviser Stephen Miller and another member of Trump’s staff got on the phone and started calling immigration hawks to warn them that a deal was in the making. Virginia Rep. Bob Goodlatte was apparently the first to arrive, and The Washington Post reports that Trump “also called House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and asked him to come, McCarthy said. Sens. David Perdue (R-Ga.) and Cotton were also invited to rush over.”
Both Graham and Durbin were unaware of this development, and were surprised to find the anti-immigration caucus waiting for them when they arrived at the White House. Goodlatte told the two senators their bill “would not fly,” and urged them to back his conservative alternative.
According to The Post, Durbin thought the President’s demeanor was entirely different from his comments on Jan. 9 and their phone call earlier that morning. Trump went on to make his “shithole countries” comments, and took a generally abrasive tone.
Quoting The Post: “After Graham left, he told associates that he was disturbed by what he heard in the Oval Office, according to people who spoke with him, and that it was evident the deal’s antagonists had gotten to Trump. Graham and Durbin also told allies that they were stunned that the other lawmakers were present — and that Trump’s tone seemed so different than it had been days or even hours before, according to people close to them.”
The Post also reports that Trump later told allies that “the proposal was a ‘terrible deal for me,’ according to a friend he spoke with, and that (White House Chief of Staff John Kelly) and other aides and confidants were correct in advising him to back away.”
But as clock ticked down and the world exploded in response to Trump’s “shithole countries” comments over the following week, no progress was made toward any resolution of the Dreamers issue.
Last week: GOP gives up, sets up
A week later, on Thursday, Jan. 18, just two days before the shutdown, Trump threw another monkey-wrench into GOP plans, Tweeting that “CHIP should be part of a long term solution, not a 30 Day, or short term, extension!”
As Talking Points Memo reported: “GOP leaders had planned to include a six-year extension of funding for the CHIP program as a way to pressure moderate Democrats to vote for a one-month extension of government funding as they scramble for enough votes to avoid a shutdown.”
Ryan and McConnell got the President back on board with their plans. But the CHIP detail is important: It shows that as earlier Thursday, Republican leadership was already aware that Democrats were finally sticking by their DACA/Dreamers promise, which meant the spending stopgap would fail in the Senate without something that addressed their concerns.
In other words, rather than seek a compromise on DACA that would give their spending bill a chance of passage, Republicans had already turned their attention to framing the shutdown as a Democratic obsession with immigration.
The final vote didn’t quite support the Republican’s preferred narrative, though. Five Democrats voted in favor of the stopgap spending bill: Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Doug Jones of Alabama, Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Joe Donnelly of Indiana.
Meanwhile, four Republicans opposed it: Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Jeff Flake of Arizona, Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky.
How did we get here? That’s how we got here.
Talking Points Memo: “Worse Than We Thought.”
Washington Post: “Inside the tense, profane White House meeting on immigration.“
Washington Post: “Immigration talks founder after White House rejects deal and Trump insults foreign countries.“
Washington Post Wonkblog: “This shutdown crisis was (at least) 17 years in the making. Here’s how we got here.”