Senate Democrats struck a deal today with Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell – and by extension Donald Trump – to temporarily reopen the government. Trump is already proudly yelling that the “Democrats Caved.” The pitchfork brigade of the left is angrily yelling the same thing. But they’re both wrong. If you look at what actually shifted today, and what’s likely to happen next, it’s not the Democrats who caved today, it’s the Republicans.
In terms of how the shutdown is being perceived by the American public, the Democrats have the clear upper hand. Polls say that Americans blame Trump and the Republicans for the shutdown by a clear margin. So why didn’t the Democrats simply let the shutdown drag out and make the other side look even worse as it went on? The GOP still had one card up its sleeve: the race card. In its desperation to temporarily get the lights back on today, the GOP gave up that card.
The Republicans have been holding two groups of Americans hostage. The first are undocumented immigrants who have lived their entire lives here and are protected by DACA. The second are children of low-income families who rely on CHIP for health care. The GOP has been trying to frame this as a false choice, arguing that the Democrats are willing to let the (largely white) CHIP recipients suffer while prioritizing (non-white) undocumented immigrants. The GOP was hoping to use this argument in the 2018 congressional elections, in order to pander to racist and xenophobic voters. But now the party just gave that away.
Today’s Senate deal fully funds CHIP. Assuming this legislation makes it through the House and gets signed by Trump, CHIP is now officially off the table. That means the Republican pitch about Democrats choosing “illegal” (non-white) people over “legal” (white) people is out the window. Now the budget impasse is solely about DACA. The Republican majority now has three weeks to get DACA done, or else the government gets shut down again.
This leaves Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump with a no-win situation. They can either pass a clean DACA bill that they don’t like, and hand a major victory to the Democrats in the process, or they can refuse to do DACA and find themselves having to explain to the American people why the government has been shut down twice in three weeks on their watch. The GOP really, really wanted to frame this as CHIP vs DACA (read: white vs non-white) heading into the midterms. In its desperation to get the lights turned back on, even temporarily, it gave up the one card it was holding.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report