WASHINGTON ― The Senate reached a deal Monday to fund the government and potentially provide a path forward for a larger immigration agreement.
Senators are set to approve a three-week funding measure to reopen the government, with many Democrats saying they felt encouraged by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) assurance over the weekend that the Senate would proceed to an immigration bill soon.
Democrats insisted they weren't caving, even though they didn't get what they wanted: an immediate vote on protections for undocumented young people often called Dreamers. But it gave them a way out of what could have been a politically damaging shutdown. And the promise, although it could be reneged on, is something that they didn't have before. It's the first time Democrats received a firm deadline for a vote on an immigration bill. And if McConnell doesn't follow through, Democrats will be able to use this promise to vote against the next spending bill and pin the blame on Republicans.
Read the latest updates on the government shutdown here.
McConnell reiterated Monday morning that he would move to vote on an immigration bill if the two sides can't agree to one by Feb. 8, as long as the government is still fully open.
"It would be my intention to take up legislation here in the Senate that would address DACA, border security, and related issues as well as disaster relief, defense funding, health care, and other important matters," McConnell said. "It would be my strong preference for the Senate to consider a proposal that can actually be signed into law, a bipartisan, bicameral group is already negotiating, and I look forward to completion of its work."
Some Democrats took McConnell's remarks as a step toward their preferred solution. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) said it represented "a path forward that is enormously smoother."
The federal government has been shut down since early Saturday because the Senate didn't approve a deal on the four-week spending bill needed to keep it open. Forty-four Democrats and four Republicans voted against that bill, with many saying they wouldn't support anything that didn't help the 700,000 undocumented young people President Donald Trump put at risk of losing deportation protections when he ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Other lawmakers who voted "no" said short-term spending bills are a bad way to operate the government.
Immigrant rights groups have been urging Democrats to demand Dreamer relief as part of must-pass spending bills since Trump rescinded DACA. Their logic ― based on years of experience ― is that a standalone bill to help Dreamers will languish if it's not attached to another measure because Republican leaders won't give it a vote, even if it has the support to pass.
McConnell's promise convinced some Democrats to switch their vote. But he wasn't able to make any guarantees about the House, as Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) previously promised the conservative Freedom Caucus he would not hold immigration votes without support from a majority of the Republican conference.
Trump could also throw the entire deal into disarray. He rejected an offer from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Friday to fund a border wall ― something Democrats have said they would not accept ― in exchange for Dreamer protections, according to Schumer. Since the shutdown, White House officials have said they would not negotiate on immigration issues.
In a speech on the Senate floor announcing that his caucus would vote to move forward, Schumer said he hadn't spoken with Trump since their Friday meeting at the White House ― before the government shut down. "The great deal-making president sat on the sidelines," he said.
Dreamer activists called on Democrats earlier Monday to not settle for McConnell's promise to hold a vote. If they lose DACA ― as an estimated 122 Dreamers already are each day ― they will lose work permits and could be deported.
"Promises won't protect anyone from deportation because delay means deportations for us," Greisa Martinez Rosas, advocacy director for the Dreamer-led group United We Dream, said on a call with reporters ahead of the vote.