They caved. Again. It’s what they do.
Anyone who expected a backbone to emerge from America’s so-called liberal party has either not been paying attention to politics or is smoking some of that good ish. Of course the Democrats were going to capitulate to the Republicans, because that’s what this generation of Democrats does. However, I do want to point one thing out: if you say they got nothing out of this deal, you’re either heartless or wrong.
The Republican Party was holding CHIP hostage—a program to give nine million kids health care—forcing the Dems into a literal Sophie’s Choice of saving the CHIP kids or DACA kids. They weren’t even hiding it. In fact, they were bragging about it.
The Republican Party could and should have passed a CHIP extension at any point over the past year. It's another moral stain that you can add on to that party like a helmet sticker in college football. They're All-American Evil, and it's understandable to want to yell at supposed liberals who gave into them yet again. But the Dems didn't make this deal for nothing. They resolved a child health crisis intentionally created by the GOP. No matter your idealism, you must accept that in politics, you cannot get something without giving something up. The Dems got something in this deal.
And technically, there is still time on DACA. Granted, the Democrats are selling this deal as “trust Mitch McConnell”—the same man boasting about taking children hostage above—so to call me a skeptic would be an understatement. But I do believe there is a plan in place. This isn't a complete capitulation. Why? Not every Dem voted yes.
The candidates who want to be president in 2020 went against the Democratic Party. To me, that signals that there is more to this plan—as the Democrats at the top of the party who liberals have always hated are serving as something of political meat shields, while the future of the party is praised for Doing The Right Thing. This bill that the Dems agreed to keeps the government open for three weeks—which I wish was a joke—but that shows you the level of seriousness our politics is authored with these days. There will be a second act to this play, and even though the Dems are somehow asking me to trust Mitch McConnell, I do want to give them some benefit of the doubt that there is indeed a plan. It may just not be a good one.
There is a way that this move could work out long-term while also getting a DACA fix/extension, but it's hard to see how it happens without further screwing over the DACA kids in the immediate future. Trump has already come out and said he will veto any DACA legislation that isn't balanced by his border priorities, but the Democrats may be betting on that.
The Hail Mary
Let's grab some of that good ish from the top of this column and assume that in a few weeks, Mitch McConnell does actually bring a DACA extension to the Senate floor, and it passes the Senate. However, because both the House of Representatives and the White House are effectively ruled by roving packs of howler monkeys, this bill is not “conservative” enough for the firebrands who control the GOP. Now, the Republican Party has a hostage negotiation to resolve with itself. Something must happen to that bill. It can't just stay in stasis forever. As soon as it enters the legislative pipeline, it's like a ticking time bomb leading up to a decision, and the GOP is bad at coming to a consensus on any decision.
The Republican Party has been conflating the DACA kids with criminals, even going so far as to say the Democrats have blood on their hands for murders committed by undocumented immigrants. However, all polling shows that the DACA kids are (at least) twice as popular as the Republican Party. The GOP is trying to walk a tightrope across a national political atmosphere which sits diametrically opposed to the wishes of their base on immigration, and the Democrats may be using that inherent conflict to spark a conflagration in the GOP over an issue which has long been simmering within the party.
IF a DACA extension gets through the Senate and dies in the House or on President Trump's desk, then the Democrats have not only created a powerful political talking point that should resonate with at least two-thirds of the country, but they have forced the Republican Party into complete and utter disarray over an issue which split the party in 2016. While the Democrats are honing their message, and grooming their candidates in anticipation of the most important midterm elections of this millennial's lifetime, the Republican Party will be forming a circular firing squad.
It's a really thin needle to thread, but there is a universe where the Dems use this hostage negotiation to force the GOP into a holy reckoning that seemed destined to occur in the wake of 2016, but was put on hold due to victory. If you take a step back and look at this as a shot aimed at the 2018 elections, it seems like a worthy political gamble. If policy is the endgame, then we need a long-term fix to DACA. DACA isn't perfect, and the debate around its constitutionality misses the fact that it's yet another power given to the executive branch. Plus, taking all policy wonkishness out of this: it's not fair to keep these folks in perpetual limbo. The best way to make long-term certainty happen on immigration is to replace Republicans with Democrats in the political body responsible for passing legislation, and pass some real legislation.
However, as good of a plan as this may be, I put the word “political” in there, because it's hard to see how DACA gets fixed and/or extended quickly even in a best-case scenario. The human costs of this decision are apparent and abhorrent. If the Republican Party sinks a DACA fix backed by massive popular support (something they have loudly voiced is their intention), and are fighting with the faction who sunk it, that hardly seems like the kind of atmosphere that another bill would be brought to the floor in. By taking a deal to resolve the crisis with the CHIP kids, the Democrats may have sentenced the DACA kids to a similar fate.
I don’t know what to think of the Democrats right now. The biggest development post-2016 is the Harris/Gillibrand/Booker faction siding with truly liberal priorities, like Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All bill. That is a representation that the lessons of 2016 are being learned. The party doesn’t need to turn into the Democratic Socialists of America, but this is not a liberal party as presently constituted. Tom Perez, the head of the DNC, seems to be voicing his displeasure with the situation the Democrats have acceded to, even while being a good soldier and blaming the Republicans for it. Paste prides itself on being one of many outlets representative of the emerging millennial left, so if the left is to truly emerge within the Democratic Party, we cannot dismiss the party offhand if it looks like it is making overtures in our base’s direction.
If Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand and Cory Booker are the beginning of a larger shift left for the Democratic Party, then that means our behavior must change as well. My instinct is to get angry, then laugh at Chuck Schumer and the old guard for doing what they’re known for doing yet again, but look at the Democrats who voted against this bill. That’s not a coincidence. There is a larger game at play here, and this deal with the GOP to keep the government open for a few weeks is Act I. I’m willing to keep an open mind as to what will come, even though I reserve my right to seriously doubt the efficacy of any plan that claims to be contingent on Mitch freaking McConnell keeping his word to a group of historically spineless politicians who he is not accountable to in any way whatsoever.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.