The Democrats blinked, but they still have their eye on a bigger prize. Meanwhile, DREAMers have to keep on dreaming.
Based on Senate President Mitch McConnell’s pledge to address the fate of the up to 800,000 young immigrants, Democrats voted to end the three-day shutdown before more serious damage was done. President Trump signed the bill Monday night.
The DREAMers and their heart-rending stories have gotten the lion’s share of publicity recently. But so much more was at stake: The short-term budget agreement extends funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program — CHIP — for six years. That’s extremely important. Nationally, CHIP covers almost 9 million children. In Florida alone, almost 375,000 children are enrolled in this program each year, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
But Congress let CHIP funding lapse almost four months ago. Then Republicans held it hostage in the budget negotiations.
Still left unresolved is dealing with the epidemic of opioid use across the country and keeping community health centers whole, to name just a few urgent issues.
While some have criticized President Trump for keeping a low profile for the three days of the shutdown, we think he did himself and the Republicans a huge favor by staying out of it. After all, he ultimately hijacked what could have been a surprisingly bipartisan process and injected vulgar and bigoted commentary about some immigrants.
Trump has vacillated on the DREAMers, campaigning on wiping out President Obama’s executive order letting young adults brought here illegally as children stay in this country. Recently, he pivoted, saying, almost as persuasively, that he wants to help them through a “bill of love” and offer them legal status. All the while, hardliner Stephen Miller, his mean-spirited senior policy adviser is dead-set against showing love or any other kind of leniency toward immigrants.
Maybe, the president is genuinely ambivalent. Maybe it’s part of President Art-of-the-Deal’s negotiation strategy. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer said that getting Trump to make a definitive decision is like “negotiating with Jell-O.”
Then there’s the ad. Saturday, Trump’s re-election campaign released — on the anniversary of his inauguration, no less — a 30-second spot that says the Democrats will be “complicit” in murders committed by illegal immigrants. No matter that evidence shows that legal and undocumented immigrants are less likely than native-born Americans to commit crime.
For Trump, it’s the virulent fear-mongering that counts.
The Democrats’ power play to lock in a solution to the immigration status of DREAMers in the original budget deal has stalled. Republicans adroitly accused them of supporting the federal government’s shutdown to demand a solution for undocumented residents. As usual, the Democrats have a messaging problem. Though on the side of right, Republicans use the optics to say otherwise.
If there’s no bipartisan agreement that the president can live with — and, most important, that lets him claim victory — then the threat of another shutdown in about three weeks is real. So is the lack of trust that McConnell will keep his pledge.
Democrats and those Republicans — who, like the majority of Americans, want to throw the DREAMers a lifeline — have their work cut out for them.
—The Miami Herald, Jan. 22, 2018