DACA Bills Fail In Senate

[ Posted Thursday, February 15th, 2018 – 17:24 UTC ]

The best chance to save DACA failed today in the Senate. Three more Republican votes would have been necessary for it to have had a chance, even though it did prove to be the most bipartisan plan out there with anywhere near the support needed to pass the Senate. What happens next is uncertain, although "Congress takes yet another week off with a serious deadline staring them in the face" would probably be a safe guess.

There were four immigration votes held in the Senate today, although one was largely unrelated to DACA and the Dreamer problem. There was a DACA bill from Republicans which closely mirrored the wish list from the White House, there was a centrist DACA bill put together by a large bipartisan group (led by Susan Collins of Maine), and there was a minimalist DACA bill from Chris Coons of Delaware and John McCain of Arizona.

The minimalist bill would have traded the DACA fix for some additional border security money, but would have ignored the other two big items on Trump's wish list (changing family reunification policy and ending the diversity visa lottery). This bill failed with a vote of 52-47 (all of these are procedural votes which require 60 to prevail). This really should be seen as a 53-47 margin, though, since John McCain wasn't present to cast a vote (assuming he'd vote for a bill he himself sponsored).

The centrist bill had the DACA fix, money for both border security and Trump's beloved wall (although not all at once, the way Trump is demanding it), restrictions on the DACA kids being able to sponsor their parents, but no changes to the visa lottery. The official vote for this measure was 54-45, but the actual margin may have been more like 58-42. Again, John McCain was not present, although he probably would have voted for it (I state this with nothing more than a gut feeling on how McCain would vote, I fully admit). The other three votes were from Democrats. The Hill explains:

A few Democrats, including Sens. Kamala Harris (Calif.), Martin Heinrich (N.M.) and Tom Udall (N.M.), withheld their votes until it was clear the measure could not get to 60, and then voted against it.

Udall and Heinrich released a statement explaining the bill would have provided funding for Trump's border wall.

. . .

Harris's last-second vote put her on the opposite side of the tally from several other Democratic senators seen as 2020 hopefuls, including Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) and Cory Booker (N.J.).

Harris said after the vote that she "could not in good conscience" support the centrist group's proposal.

"I recognize that my colleagues faced the impossible challenge of crafting a bill that could meet the White House's unreasonable and ever-shifting demands. But regrettably this bill is simply not the answer," she said.

The key phrase in all of that is that they "withheld their votes until it was clear the measure could not get to 60." This is telling, because it suggests that if the bill had gotten 57 other votes, these three may have held their noses and gone along with it anyway. Perhaps, perhaps not -- it's impossible to say for certain, but it is suggestive.

If that is true (and if McCain were present), then the bill really only needed two additional votes. By my back-of-the-envelope figuring, if 46 Democrats voted for the bill, that means that eight Republicans are already on board. Add in McCain and the three Democrats, and the bill would only be two votes shy of passing. Getting two more GOP votes may not be possible, but it certainly is tantalizingly close.

The final Senate vote today was on the White House plan, but it went down by a whopping 39-60. This means at least 11 Republicans voted against it, even with both Trump and Mitch McConnell cheerleading for it.

There was an additional vote on a standalone measure to punish sanctuary cities, but this was seen as a purely political vote to be used in attack ads this November. It didn't address any of the rest of what is being debated within it, so it isn't even really relevant to the DACA discussion.

The clock is ticking for the DACA people. March 5th is currently the day they lose their legal protection. This has been thrown somewhat into limbo by two federal judges ruling that DACA cannot be cut off even after that date, but these are temporary rulings and could be overturned at any time. After Congress returns from their weeklong Presidents' Day holiday break, the pressure to act will be far greater than it already is.

At this point, most of the problem is what Kamala Harris identified as "the impossible challenge of crafting a bill that could meet the White House's unreasonable and ever-shifting demands." Trump is obviously listening closest to Stephen Miller, the immigration hardliner reportedly responsible for coming up with the White House wish list in the first place. But even more importantly, John Kelly also is reported to draw a pretty hard line of his own on immigration.

Trump on his own (without all the puppetmasters pulling his strings) would likely accept anything that crossed his desk. Trump fully admitted as much one month ago (before he was talked into his current "my way or the highway" stance), while meeting with congressional leadership from both parties:

I think my positions are going to be what the people in this room come up with. I am very much reliant on the people in this room. I know most of the people on both sides, I have a lot of respect for the people on both sides, and what I approve is going to be very much reliant on what the people in this room come to me with. I have great confidence. If they come to me with things that I'm not in love with, I'm going to do it, because I respect them.

That, obviously, is not operative any more. But it could become so again, given the mercurial nature of Trump. This is one of the reasons why the bipartisan bill got so much Republican support, even though Trump was loudly campaigning against it at the last minute. If the bill could be tweaked enough to convince a few more GOP senators, Trump could just do a complete reversal and declare victory.

Of course, this is all merely examining what might possibly make it out of the Senate in the next few weeks. The House is an entirely different kettle of fish. Nobody really knows what the bipartisan Senate bill's chances would be in the House, if Paul Ryan ever actually allowed a vote on it (which is also in question). Ryan's already on the record stating he'll only bring up a bill Trump has gotten behind, so that could be an easy excuse to do absolutely nothing, even if the Senate has acted.

The chances for a breakthrough on DACA and immigration policy got worse today, that is indisputable. But then the chances were never all that high to begin with, really. It was somewhat heartening to see eight Republicans vote for a bipartisan bill, but it still fell short of the goal. Three more Republican votes are necessary for the bill to even have a chance, and that would also mean convincing the three Democrats who voted no to flip their votes, as well. Working all this out in the first week of March is still possible, but it's got to be seen as a longshot, at this point.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


7 Comments on “DACA Bills Fail In Senate”

  1. [1] 
    John M from Ct. wrote:

    I am still trying to figure out, as I did during the ACA debates at the beginning of the Obama administration, what the pluses are for declaring that 60% is the working 'majority' in the Senate. Yes, I know the Republicans have a bare majority, and the 60% thing frustrates them. But I remember that the Dems once had a bare majority, and the 60% thing frustrated them.

    I am prepared to admit that the Republicans currently control Congress. I am prepared for the idea that they will pass laws, signed by a Republican president, that I don't like. But that should be normal. They won the elections, they get to pass laws.

    But the 60% thing. Is that in the Constitution? Is that some rule about not ruffling feathers, or encouraging bipartisanship? As far as I can see with your post here, a bipartisan majority in the mid-50s failed to pass a Senate bill, because ... 60%. Like the Constitution says, oh no it doesn't.

    I'm ready for it to go. Yes, the progressive agenda will suffer, until the progressives actually win some majority-rules elections that say, with more than 50% in the legislatures, you get to pass laws. Even in the Senate.

  2. [2] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    OK, comments! My apologies for my absence here, but outside life intruded on my free time...

    Before I begin, one BIG apology, to "jay," who wrote in before anyone else last Friday to let me know I had blown a title in spectacular fashion:

    I stand corrected, I thank you for the correction (good eye!), and I welcome you to the site. My sincere apologies for how long it took to post your comment, too. I've fixed the Hitchhiker's Guide title in the article, while blushing shamefully for my error...

    OK, with that out of the way, let's get to some other comments over the past week...


  3. [3] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    John M from Ct. [1] -

    You're right, it's not in the Constitution at all. It's all part of the bastard children of what used to be the filibuster rule, which was also never part of the original Constitution.

    These days, it takes two votes with a 60-vote threshhold for any big legislation. The first is to open debate, and the second is to end the debate (I think, doing this from memory). Any big bill needs 60 solid votes behind it to get to the final vote (the one that counts) which is actually a majority vote (again, doing this from memory, really should look it up on Wikipedia or something).

    This didn't used to be mandatory for all bills, but the rules changed a while back (1970s) so that actual talking filibusters didn't have to actually happen any more. This was the same time filibuster threshhold was lowered (used to be 2/3rds, or 67 votes).

    This worked OK for a while, but in the last 20 years, both parties have abused the heck out of it so that now any bill at all (it seems) has to pass the 60-vote threshhold.

    The Senate could get rid of this rule at any time, though, since as you state it is not part of the Constution. They already have "dropped this nuke" twice -- the first (Harry Reid) to end 60-vote filibusters on judicial nominees below SCOTUS, and then the second (Mitch McConnell) to do the same for SCOTUS.

    The "third nuke" would be to do away with the last vestiges of the filibuster altogether and just go to majority rules (as the House does). McConnell occasionally gets pressure to do just this (from Trump, even), but has so far expressed no interest in doing so.

    That's because he remembers what it's like to be in the minority in the Senate.

    My guess is that before either party drops this third nuke, they'll probably water it down before they do. Perhaps make the threshhold 55 votes? That might change things enough, who knows?

    This would be a much more monumental step than doing so for judicial nominees, but I do kind of think that we're getting a lot closer to taking this step. At this point, I don't know which party would do it first, but I can certainly see it as a possibility.


  4. [4] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:
  5. [5] 
    Michale wrote:

    DACA is dead...

    That's what happens when a POTUS ignores the law and just does whatever the hell he wants....

    I know THAT one is gonna come back and bite me on the ass.. :D

  6. [6] 
    John M wrote:


    "DACA is dead..."

    A legislative fix for DACA is dead. At least until possibly after the mid term elections in November.

    "That's what happens when a POTUS ignores the law and just does whatever the hell he wants...."

    DACA itself still CONTINUES without change due to lower court rulings. Whether what Obama did or not is constitutional or not is STILL to be determined, despite all the right wing bluster, as it has never reached the Supreme Court YET for review.

  7. [7] 
    Michale wrote:

    DACA itself still CONTINUES without change due to lower court rulings.

    U.S. top court mulls whether to take up 'Dreamers' dispute

    For now....

    DACA is dead.. It just doesn't know it yet...

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