Stepping Back From The Brink
Published January 22, 2018 / Updated August 5, 2020

Stepping Back From The Brink

Congress is backing away from the 2018 weekend shutdown.

by Chris Thomas

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Photo by Nathan Shipps

Senate Democrats backed down on Monday after Mitch McConnell promised Senate action on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) issue on or before February 8th. The Senate, on the strength of McConnell’s promise, voted 81–18 to pass a continuing resolution, temporarily funding the government. The measure goes to the House and then the President later today.

Why this matters

Obviously this matters because it re-opens the government but it also serves as a test of Mr. McConnell’s leadership. This is not the first promise Mr. McConnell has made on the subject of DACA. Back in December, he promised Arizona Senator Jeff Flake that “Congress would come up with a DACA fix in exchange for his vote on the GOP’s tax bill.”

It clearly didn’t.

Leader McConnell also promised Senator Susan Collins that the Alexander-Murray and Collins-Nelson bills would become “must pass” legislation in the Senate. That promise also failed to materialize, though Collins still voted to pass the GOP’s tax bill.

Bad Faith

Mr. McConnell’s standard “out” on these promises has been to hide behind the other chamber. If the House fails to bring a DACA bill to a vote, Democrats will have won nothing for the Dreamers in exchange for ending the shutdown. It’s a cynical read on McConnell’s pledge, but one that aligns nicely with his and the President’s policy objectives.

And cynicism runs deep, especially among House Democrats. Politico reports that “House Democrats were waiting to see what happened in the Senate, but don’t favor McConnell’s plan because they don’t believe Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) would bring up a Senate-passed immigration bill in their chamber.”

What’s Next

So the aftermath of the shutdown is as follows. The Senate will eventually vote on DACA. The House may take the matter up, though Democrats appear to have won no assurances there. In neither case is the bill promised as “clean,” so “poison pill” provisions like funding for Trump’s Wall or another attempt to repeal Obamacare could be used to render it unpalatable to Democrats. Finally, anything which passes the Congress must still survive a Presidential veto and Trump’s actual objectives there remain nebulous.


The real accounting happens in November. If Senator McConnell’s promised DACA bill dies in the Senate or on the President’s desk, will the Democratic base, and especially the Latino vote, consider this weekend’s effort an adequate stand in defence of the Dreamers? Only time will tell.

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