Divided Democrats Face Liberal Backlash on Immigration

Steve Peoples and Matthew Daly, Associated Press, January 4, 2018

With a new deadline fast approaching, Democrats in Congress are struggling to adopt a unified strategy to protect hundreds of thousands of young immigrants from deportation.

Their inaction has enraged liberal activists across the country, who have shifted their anger in recent days from Republicans who control Congress to Democrats seeking to balance their commitment to a progressive priority with their desire to avoid an explosive government shutdown heading into the 2018 midterm elections.

Liberal groups with millions of members, like MoveOn, are threatening primary election challenges later this year against Democrats who don’t fight hard enough for so-called “Dreamers.” Meanwhile, the liberal organization CREDO is pledging to block campaign cash from uncooperative Democrats, and the pro-immigration United We Dream is preparing a new wave of camera-friendly protests at the Capitol and outside congressional Democrats’ offices nationwide.

“The unity and trust between the grassroots and elected Democrats is rapidly eroding. It could turn ugly if this goes on any further,” said Ben Wikler, MoveOn’s Washington director.

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As Republicans resist a stand-alone bill to provide legal status to the young immigrants unless it includes funding for Trump’s border wall, liberal groups want Democrats to use what leverage they have to force immigrant protections into government spending legislation that must be passed by Jan. 19 — even if that triggers a government shutdown.

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Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren told The Associated Press on Wednesday that, like many Democrats, she prefers to pass “a clean Dream Act” before Jan. 19.

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The political director for the progressive group CREDO, Murshed Zaheed, said it was “a pipe dream” to expect the Republican-controlled Congress to adopt a stand-alone bill to protect the young immigrants. That’s why, he said, Democrats must use their limited leverage to include the provision in the must-pass spending bill.

Eighteen Democrats in the Senate and 14 in the House voted in favor of a temporary spending bill last month that did not include protections for immigrants. Liberal groups quickly created a website identifying the Democrats as “the Deportation Caucus” and promised to highlight their votes on congressional scorecards ahead of the midterm elections.

Warren and several other Democrats with possible presidential aspirations, such as California Sen. Kamala Harris and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, voted against the short-term spending bill, while many facing difficult re-elections this fall voted for the package. Seven of 10 Democrats seeking re-election in states where Trump won voted in favor of the spending bill, including Missouri’s Claire McCaskill, North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp and Montana’s Jon Tester.

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Liberal groups largely blame Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York for not uniting Democrats behind a hardline strategy, as he did during recent debates on taxes and health care.

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Yet it remains unclear whether Schumer will push his party to risk a government shutdown. Amid that uncertainty, the New York Democrat cast himself among those fighting for the young immigrants on Wednesday.

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State Senate leader Kevin de Leon, who is running against Feinstein, has called her “AWOL” on immigration.

Immigration activists, along with celebrity actors such as Alyssa Milano, Bradley Whitford and America Ferrera, rallied outside Feinstein’s Los Angeles office on Wednesday to ensure she doesn’t change her mind again.

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