Four years ago, Republican lawmakers leveraged the threat of a government shutdown to try and win a fight over health care. Republicans said they would not vote for a spending bill (or a debt-limit increase) unless it delayed or defunded Obamacare, something Barack Obama obviously would block. The government wound up shutting down for two weeks in October before the issue was resolved, and at the time, Democratic lawmakers excoriated the GOP.
Nancy Pelosi called the shutdown gambit “an unthinkable tactic,” and labeled those pushing for it “legislative arsonists.” Chuck Schumer vowed not to use it: “No matter how strongly one feels about an issue, you shouldn’t hold millions of people hostage . . . That’s wrong and we can’t give into that,” he told the New York Observer. “We could say, ‘we’re shutting down the government, we’re not going to raise the debt ceiling, until you pass immigration reform.’ It would be governmental chaos,” Schumer said a week later.
Now, with a shutdown looming, Schumer and Pelosi find themselves boxed in. Democratic lawmakers such as Kamala Harris and Richard Durbin have vowed to oppose any spending bill that doesn’t include a legislative fix for DACA — which expires in March. In essence, they are threatening a shutdown in order to secure a win on immigration. But Schumer and Pelosi have been cagey when asked if they would embrace that tactic, perhaps because doing so would be a breathtaking display of hypocrisy. “I’ll have to see what the spending bill is,” Pelosi told reporters earlier this month when asked if she would embrace a shutdown to win on immigration. “But I fully intend that we will not leave here without the DREAM Act passing.” For his part, Schumer said on Tuesday that he is “hopeful” Congress can avoid a shutdown, but blamed the president for impeding negotiations.
Will the Democratic leaders wind up calling for a shutdown, contradicting themselves in the process? Or will they agree to a spending bill that leaves DACA unresolved and frustrate the progressive wing of their party? Their decision to withdraw from a key negotiation with the president and top Republicans made a shutdown more likely. It also provided a clue that, to Democrats, sticking to the creed on immigration could be more important than consistency.