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Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill on Monday, Jan. 22, 2018. (CNN Newsource)

Democrats and Republicans declare victory, assign blame after shutdown deal

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The Senate passed a bill to reopen the federal government Monday, about 65 hours after lawmakers missed a deadline to fund the government on Friday night amid a faceoff over the fate of young immigrants who were brought to the country illegally by their parents, but progressive dissatisfaction with the deal could last much longer.

So-called Dreamers were protected by the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, but that protection runs out in March. Democrats had demanded a permanent fix for DACA recipients before they would support a continuing resolution to keep the government open, but Republicans insisted immigration issues be dealt with separately.

The shutdown officially began at midnight Saturday, leading to a weekend of frenzied negotiation and finger-pointing until it became clear around noon Monday that a bipartisan compromise had the votes to pass. Despite vocal opposition from some House Democrats, the bill is expected to pass there later Monday and head to the president’s desk for a signature.

The agreement would fund the government through Feb. 8 and reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program for six years. In return, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has assured Democrats that, if an agreement has not been reached on protecting DACA recipients by then, he intends to allow a vote on the issue on the Senate floor.

Much as both sides attempted to assign blame for the shutdown over the last three days, they promptly began angling to take credit once a resolution was reached.

"I am pleased that Democrats in Congress have come to their senses and are now willing to fund our great military, border patrol, first responders and insurance for vulnerable children," President Donald Trump said in a statement read by Press Secretary Sarah Sanders at Monday’s White House briefing.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who Republicans had made the face of the Democratic side in the shutdown fight, defended the deal as an imperfect compromise that could lead to bipartisan consensus.

"While this procedure will not satisfy everyone on both sides, it's a way forward,” Schumer said in a Senate floor speech. “I'm confident that we can get the 60 votes in the Senate for a DCA bill. And now there is a real pathway to get a bill on the floor and through the Senate.”

McConnell derided Schumer’s decision to force a shutdown in the first place.

“I think if we have learned anything during this process, it's that a strategy to shut down the government over the issue of illegal immigration is something the American people didn't understand, and would not have understood in the future,” McConnell said on the Senate floor.

Other members of both parties expressed dismay over the whole episode and hope that such a standoff can be avoided in the future.

"Today is the day to celebrate because we have shown that a determined group of senators working together across the aisle can result in positive action, in this case, the re-opening of government," Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, told reporters after the deal was reached.

The relatively subdued statements from all sides Monday followed at times heated rhetoric over the weekend, as Republicans painted Democrats as putting illegal immigrants ahead of American citizens and Democrats suggested Republicans were incapable of governing.

The peak of the tension was illustrated by an ad released by President Trump’s campaign accusing Democrats of being “complicit” in murders committed by undocumented immigrants because they oppose Trump’s immigration policies. The White House later tried to distance the president from the ad, which ends with Trump’s voice saying he approved it.

Many questions remain unresolved for Dreamers. Even if the Senate passes a bill granting legal status or a path to citizenship by Feb. 8, there is no guarantee that the House will consider it or that Trump will sign it if it reaches his desk.

Prior to the Senate vote Monday, progressive advocacy groups had urged Democrats to resist “empty promises” from McConnell. On a conference call with reporters, leaders of several organizations emphasized the importance of this issue for their base and the need to maintain a brave stance to defend Dreamers.

“Our goal here is to remind Democrats what’s at stake and also to make sure that we have unity going forward,” said Neera Tanden, CEO of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

Others noted that McConnell has so far failed to follow through on promises made to Republican Sens. Jeff Flake and Susan Collins in December to get their support on tax reform.

“We’ve heard this record before, just last month in fact…. Democrats must not dance to Mitch McConnell’s tune,” said Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference of Civil and Human Rights.

According to Greisa Martinez Rosas, advocacy director for United We Dream and a DACA recipient, Trump, McConnell, and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., have already proven themselves to be unreliable negotiating partners on immigration.

“Each of these men has bowed down to Stephen Miller and the extremists in Congress,” she said.

Other progressive leaders also took aim at Miller, a White House policy adviser and immigration hardliner, suggesting Trump is hiding in fear and letting him and Chief of Staff John Kelly direct immigration policy.

“It’s clear to us that Stephen Miller is puppeteering Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan and President Trump,” said Becky Pringle, vice president of the National Education Association.

White House Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah disputed that characterization.

"[Trump is] setting the agenda, these are his policy views and frankly exactly what he ran on for over a year and a half during the campaign,” he said on CNN. “In the chief of staff, in Stephen Miller, you have people who are really experienced in this debate. They bring great ideas.”

Following the announcement of the Senate agreement, Ilya Sheyman, executive director of MoveOn.org Political Action, issued a statement calling it “a bad, outrageous deal.”

“Trump and Republicans in Congress stood with their anti-immigrant nativist base, and too many Democrats backed down, abandoned Dreamers, and failed to fight for their values,” Sheyman said.

Immigration advocates point to polls showing the vast majority of Americans support letting Dreamers stay in the U.S. with a permanent legal status. According to a Pew Research Center poll released Friday, 74 percent of adults favor granting them legal status, including 50 percent of Republicans. Trump’s biggest immigration demand, the wall, fares much worse, with only 37 percent of Americans in favor of substantially expanding the physical barrier on the border.

However, polling also calls into question whether the DACA issue is a high enough priority in the minds of voters to justify grinding the government to a halt, suggesting Democrats had a weaker hand than they believed.

A CNN poll released hours before the shutdown began showed 56 percent of Americans considered keeping the government open more important than finding a solution for DACA recipients. Even among Democrats, only 49 percent said DACA was worth shutting down the government over.

A survey conducted by Public Policy Polling for the Center for American Progress indicated that the public largely agrees with protecting DACA recipients, but again there was less enthusiasm for either side hinging the funding of the government on it. In that poll, 54 percent agreed with Democrats that a bipartisan compromise to protect Dreamers and increase border security should be part of the bill funding the government. Asked whether Republicans should let the government shut down by blocking such a bill, 54 percent said they should not.

These numbers may explain why some Democrats were eager to sign off on a deal that offered no tangible guarantee for Dreamers, but Glenn Altschuler, a professor of American Studies at Cornell University, doubts a shutdown that lasted less than three days will have much long-term impact on either party’s electoral prospects.

“This is one which I don’t think, in and of itself, will have a lasting impact because of the short duration and because the blame game can be played successfully by both sides and the credit-taking can be played by both sides,” he said.

Many progressives were outraged Monday, but the eventual outcome of the DACA debate will likely matter more to activists than the political machinations that precede it.

“This will be a two-day story or a non-story if there is an agreement on DACA that is viewed by the Democratic base and others as a helpful, positive agreement,” Altschuler said.

According to Capri Cafaro, a former Ohio state senator and executive in residence at the American University School of Public Affairs, both parties believed they had the high ground to win the messaging war. Democrats could say they were standing by their principles and the GOP majority failed to govern, and Republicans could slam Democrats for defending illegal immigration.

“The American people are I think frustrated with both sides and somewhat see this as the political dealsmanship that it is,” she said.

The fiery rhetoric and insults coming from the president and some members of Congress during the shutdown were not helping.

“I think it does get in the way of getting a deal in the sense that anytime there’s such inflammatory rhetoric, it increases tensions both inside the negotiating room and outside,” Cafaro said.

Altschuler suggested the parties were speaking to different audiences, rather than competing to present a more compelling argument to the general public.

“The Republicans were seeking, in my judgment, to put Democratic senators and representatives from red states in a box,” he said. “The Democrats were seeking to put Republican House members in swing districts or districts with a significant percentage of Latino voters in a box.”

According to Democratic strategist Craig Varoga, neither side comes out of this fight looking good since none of the underlying issues that led Congress to this cliff have been rectified.

“Nobody in either party should be doing a happy dance,” he said. “This is not the end of the story, and it is way too early to assign winners and losers, since the havoc and disorder in Washington will continue for months, if not years.”

Nothing decided Monday precludes another shutdown in February or further down the line if negotiations on immigration stall again. Given the wide gulf in opinion on this volatile issue between House conservatives and moderate senators, that is far from an unlikely outcome.

“Message to all participants, and this includes the White House and Congress: spin any way you want, but don’t believe your declarations of victory,” Varoga said, “because American voters see only disorder coming out of the stately marble buildings in D.C.”

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