Dems Risk It All With DACA Shutdown

Rep. Nancy Pelosi

The Briefing, Vol. VI, Issue 4

This week:

  • Democrats risk their huge advantages with a government shutdown
  • Reminiscent of Republicans’ shutdown of 2013
  • Trump, Pence stumping ahead of Pennsylvania House special


Dems’ shutdown gamble: As matters stood Friday, Democrats had the wind at their backs for 2018. They could look forward to running against an unpopular president. Their chances seemed quite good to take over a House full of vulnerable Republicans and open seats due to GOP retirements. A Democratic Senate, although less likely, seemed perhaps potentially on the cards as well.

When things are going your way this soundly, you usually go with the flow. You don’t rock the boat too much. You don’t take massive risks.

Well, that’s not the way Democratic leaders see it. Despite all their obvious advantages, they’ve just chosen to shut down the federal government, creating the shutdown that is just now entering its first true business day. Four years after they pulled out all the stops to curse the very idea of a shutdown, the Dems are now “taking hostages” and doing all the other things they once professed to hate.

Maybe it won’t matter. Maybe the shutdown will be over with by the time you make it through your email, click through, and read this. Maybe shutdowns just don’t matter to people in general the way the cable news networks and the politicians pretend they do.

Democrats had probably better hope that’s the case. Because it’s impossible to imagine any scenario where they avoid responsibility for the shutdown. After all, they’ve been openly telegraphing plans to force a shutdown over DACA for several months. Their votes made the difference in preventing an up-or-down vote on funding the government.

What’s more, Democrats’ motives in shutting down the government aren’t straightforward. They aren’t shutting down the government because there’s something objectionable in the spending bill they are blocking. They do not actually object to anything in the continuing resolution, which both funds the government and reauthorizes the CHIP program to insure lower-income children.

Rather, Democrats demanded an unrelated immigration concession (DACA) that is not in the bill and wouldn’t normally be in such a bill at all. Now they are shutting the government down unless they get it, even though there are six weeks until DACA has to be dealt with.

Just like 2013: If this sounds familiar, it’s because it is. This is nearly the same as Republicans’ ill-advised 2013 shutdown of the government over Obamacare. (In the end, that shutdown didn’t hurt Republicans too much — whether because Obamacare-related events superseded it, or because shutdowns don’t matter. Take your pick.)

Recall that at that time, a small number of Republicans, led by Ted Cruz, shut down government funding in hopes of attaining a completely unrelated goal — the defunding of Obamacare. Obamacare was already funded independent of the government-funding bill under consideration, so the move seemed absurd. Many people pointed this out at the time — the Republicans who got behind that “defund” effort were trying to exercise leverage they didn’t possess. They were threatening the wrong hostage and had no chance of getting their way.

Democrats find themselves in a similar position now. But the real issue, as noted above, is that they are rolling the dice when they don’t have to. Democrats are winning already, and they seem to have little to gain with this risky move. Might this cost them their advantage? Or do people just not care that much about government shutdowns?

In summary, this seems like a very costly and potentially losing way of keeping the party’s donor base happy. Only time will tell whether it backfires.

House 2018

Redistricting: In what has become an increasingly partisan judicial environment, liberal judges have once again tried to invalidate the Republican House map in North Carolina. Rather than force a remap ahead of this year’s primaries, the Supreme Court has put a stay on their ruling pending appeal.

The Court could settle quite a bit of nonsense (including at least one other case out of Wisconsin) with a clear ruling on what’s permissible in redistricting and what isn’t. But based on recent history such a thing seems unlikely. Bet on a narrower ruling.

Pennsylvania-18: Republicans face another defensive battle here on March 13, thanks to the disgrace and resignation of former Rep. Tim Murphy, R.

In a district where President Trump won 58 percent and Republicans have historically done nearly that well, Democrats once again have high hopes in their candidate, veteran and former Assistant U.S. Attorney Conor Lamb.

Trump traveled to Pennsylvania last week to throw his support behind Republican state Rep. Rick Saccone, and Mike Pence is scheduled to be there February 2.

This is a a seat Republicans can’t afford to lose. A loss here would not only portend a massive Democratic wave in 2018, but also demonstrate that Democrats have suffered no ill effects from shutting down the government.

Ryan fundraising: Speaker Paul Ryan has set another record with his $44 million raised in 2017, the majority of which went to the NRCC. If Republicans do lose in 2018, it won’t be for lack of resources. Still, it’s worth remembering that money only makes a small difference in the occasional close race — it isn’t going to save a party that’s teetering on the edge of a massive defeat. With his fundraising, Ryan can put Republicans in the best position to exploit any breaks in their favor. Neither his nor anyone else’s money can slant an adverse playing field in their favor.

Senate 2018

Minnesota: Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, R, will not be running for Al Franken’s former seat, leaving the field open for a lesser-known Republican to run. State Sen. Karin Housley formally announced a week ago, and until further notice she’s the favorite. Appointed Sen. Tina Smith, D, Franken’s replacement, will likely receive the Democratic nomination without a fight.

Governor 2018

Michigan: Detroit Democrats at least claim they’re worried that if their party nominates Gretchen Whitmer for governor, it will be Virg Bernero all over again — an obscure central Michigan candidate who is doomed from the start. Even worse, they’re concerned that she’ll be so weak as to bring about down-ticket consequences.

This could just be an exercise in internal party muscle-flexing, but Mayor Mike Duggan is fishing around for an alternative. None has appeared yet. So far, both Sen. Gary Peters and Rep. Dale Kildee have waved him off.