I’ve been seeing some pleasantly shocked responses (or at least expressions of puzzlement) from mainstream journalists over Mitch McConnell’s plans for bringing a DACA bill to the floor for debate. Unlike his normal, carefully calculated approach, the Senate Majority Leader is offering up a free-for-all where everyone, Democrats included, will be able to bring up their own amendments for debate and a vote. The way things stand now, as Politico reported this morning, nobody really knows what’s going to be in the bill. And as far as Chuck Schumer’s caucus is concerned, that’s a good thing.
Mitch McConnell is taking the reins of an immigration debate that may prompt a fix for “Dreamers” — or quickly spiral out of control.
Usually careful with his every move, the Senate majority leader is taking a gamble this week with his pledge for a free-for-all debate over the fate of hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants.
No one knows the GOP leader’s endgame, nor how he personally prefers the stalemate over Dreamers be resolved. It’s highly unusual for a Senate majority leader, particularly one as calculating as McConnell, to bring a divisive issue to the floor with no clearly intended result in sight.
Isn’t this awfully, er… messy compared to what we’ve seen in the past? Normally, the party holding the majority approaches these types of debates warily, limiting the options of the minority and trying to get something done with the least media damage possible. But these negotiations may be a horse of a different color precisely because this open floor food fight works for McConnell on two levels.
First of all, he made a promise to Chuck Schumer about this. If the Democrats allowed the recent spending bills to go through and didn’t shut down the government again, the GOP would give them an open debate and a vote on DACA, coming up with something to do about the Dreamers. (And, at least according to the President, millions more who were never in the program. (#sigh)) If McConnell went back on that promise, Schumer would be beating him up over it straight through the midterms. This way Mitch comes off as being “an honest broker” in these talks, as John Thune said last night.
Second, and perhaps more importantly, the Senate Majority Leader believes (probably correctly) that he has a winning hand to play. Schumer will be coming in trying to oppose anything and everything that Trump wants, fighting him at every turn, while pushing for the biggest DACA package he can get. But we’ve got enough polling on the subject over the past year or so to know that many of the points the Democrats will be trying to make (and forcing their members to vote on) are not really very popular with the public. Most people want lower legal immigration quotas, or at least not to have an increase in them. They do want something done for the Dreamers, but the public has already signaled quite clearly that they weren’t willing to support a government shutdown over it. And prioritizing illegal aliens over the safety and security of American citizens is never going to be a popular selling point.
The only thing the Democrats have managed to sell the public on is that they don’t want to spend all that money on the wall. Not that people actually oppose a stronger border… it’s just the money. (Because the party out of power always pretends to care about spending, even when it’s the Republicans.)
I’m willing to bet that this is just what Mitch McConnell is thinking. By allowing all these amendments and votes, he demonstrates that he was good to his word on the budget deal. Simultaneously, he allows the far left wing of the Democrats to put up a bunch of proposals that have slim support among the voters and take votes on them that they will then have to defend in the midterms. And in the end, the majority can still shut down any amendments that are completely out of whack.
It looks to me like McConnell is throwing Chuck Schumer as much rope as he’s willing to take and inviting the Democrats to go hang themselves with it. From that point of view, it really doesn’t look very risky at all.