Last week, based on a promise of support from President Trump, Republicans and Democrats worked out a deal to slightly reduce future legal immigration and expand border resources in exchange for increasing the number of current immigrants–Dreamers–eligible for permanent legal status. But then Trump went back on his promise. So the Democrats opted for a “government shutdown” (refusing to vote on a continuing resolution) to try to force Trump (and the GOP) to reconsider the deal. After a few days, the Democrats were given some concessions and relented, allowing the government to operate for another couple of weeks.
It was certainly disappointing that the shutdown ended without a long-term solution for the Dreamers, and it was understandable that activists and advocates were angry. But much of their anger was directed at Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer for “caving in” to the Republicans. Some were so angry, in fact, that they protested in front of Schumer’s residence.
The logic goes something like this: if Schumer had stuck to principles and refused to re-open the government, Republicans would have eventually caved in and agreed to pass a clean Dream Act (despite the promise of a veto from Trump). But this hope was utterly unrealistic, especially when the reality of a shutdown began to dawn on both citizens and the media: government services stopped and employees not getting paid, military not getting paid, national parks closed, etc.
The public narrative quickly became clear: responsibility for the shutdown more easily attached to the group that made an affirmative action (blocking the continuing resolution) than the group that didn’t take an action (not putting a clean Dream Act to a vote). Yes, the GOP “controlled” all three branches of government, but without 60 votes they didn’t really control the Senate. Blaming the Dems may have been unjust but that’s the way it was going, and no amount of righteous indignation seemed to alter the momentum. With every hour that clicked by, the blame and pressure increased on the Democrats and the Republicans pointed the finger with mounting bravado.
Schumer knew he was fighting a losing battle, so he cut his losses and was able to get Senate Majority Leader McConnell on the record about a Dream Act vote in the near future. If McConnell breaks his promise it will be the Democrats’ turn to point fingers (but even if a Dream Act passes the Senate, there’s a good chance it will die in the House). Meanwhile, Schumer and the Democrats were able to get CHIP refunded, so it’s off the table for any future negotiation. And they were able to shine a moral spotlight on the Dreamers in a national conversation.
Remember that the Republicans attacked and marginalized Dreamers for years. We need to make sure they own that. And we need to scream and shout that a clean Dream Act passes in some form soon for the sake of morality and decency. We also need to point out that Trump and his alt-right advisers are on the wrong side of history as they undermine American values. But to attack Senator Schumer for averting a political disaster for the Democratic party is a waste of effort and energy.
If we attack our own party and our own politicians, we are going to jeopardize our ability to unify and win elections. It’s important that we pressure Democratic leaders, but assassinating their character is profoundly counterproductive. We can passionately support Dreamers without tearing down Senator Schumer. He is not a bad man. He’s playing the long game the best he can with almost no leverage other than a moral imperative, which we can help him drive home. It’s fine to hope for miracles, but to turn against an elected official for not delivering them makes no sense.