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Monday, Feb 19, 2018
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Back to work: Government shutdown ending as Dems relent

New York TimesWASHINGTON — Congress brought an end to a three-day government shutdown on Monday as Senate Democrats buckled under pressure to adopt a short-term spending bill to fund government operations without first addressing the fate of young unauthorized immigrants.

The House quickly approved the measure — which will fund the government through Feb. 8 and extend funding for the popular Children’s Health Insurance Program for six years — and President Donald Trump signed it on Monday night.

The agreement also revealed fissures among Democrats, with about one-third of the party’s members in the Senate and a majority in the House voting against it.

The passage of the measure ended an ugly, if short-lived, impasse that threatened to give a black eye to both major political parties. The deal, reached after a bipartisan group of senators pushed their leaders to come to terms, enables hundreds of thousands of federal employees who had been facing furloughs to go back to work.

But a key part of the deal, a pledge by Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the majority leader, to allow an immigration vote in the coming weeks, sets the stage for a battle over the so-called Dreamers, young immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally as children.

Lawmakers in the House and Senate are offering drastically different visions of how to resolve their fate. But those on both sides of the debate, as well as advocates for immigrants’ rights, said that ultimately Trump would need to get involved for the immigration dispute to be settled.

Trump’s intentions were hard to discern.

"I am pleased that Democrats in Congress have come to their senses and are now willing to fund our great military, Border Patrol, first responders and insurance for vulnerable children," the president said in a statement. "As I have always said, once the government is funded, my administration will work toward solving the problem of very unfair illegal immigration."

But, Trump added, "we will make a long-term deal on immigration if, and only if, it is good for our country."

The vote in the Senate was lopsided: 81 senators voted to end the shutdown while 18 — two Republicans and the rest Democrats and an independent who caucuses with them — sided against the measure. In the House, the vote was 266-150, with about three-quarters of Democrats opposed.

The votes came after a weekend of fevered negotiations by a bipartisan group that eventually grew to include about 25 senators, who helped put together a framework in which Democrats would vote to reopen the government in exchange for the promise from McConnell.

An apparent turning point came when McConnell took the Senate floor on Monday morning to announce that he would ensure a "level playing field" on immigration — language that some Democrats interpreted as going further than he had before. McConnell said he would have the Senate take up immigration legislation by mid February if the issue had not been resolved by then.

"I sat on the floor and listened to him very intently, somewhat holding my breath," said Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, who caucuses with the Democrats. "I think the majority leader has made a public commitment that it would be very hard for him not to meet."

But Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., was unconvinced and voted against the bill. She suggested that she did not trust McConnell.

"I refuse to put the lives of nearly 700,000 young people in the hands of someone who has repeatedly gone back on his word," she said.

Immigrants’ rights activists were crushed.

"Last week, I was moved to tears of joy when Democrats stood up and fought for progressive values and for Dreamers," said Frank Sharry, the executive director of America’s Voice, an immigrants’ rights group. "Today, I am moved to tears of disappointment and anger that Democrats blinked."

Hundreds of thousands of young immigrants have been protected from deportation under an Obama-era initiative, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. Trump rescinded the program in September and gave Congress six months, until March 5, to come up with a replacement.

But the president has demanded that border security — including money for the "big, beautiful wall" he has promised at the southern border with Mexico — be included in any package. Trump also wants limits on what critics call "chain migration," in which immigrants can sponsor their relatives, and an end to the diversity visa lottery, which fosters immigration from countries that are underrepresented.

A bipartisan group of six senators, led by Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has proposed the backbone of an immigration deal that might garner 60 votes, enough to break a filibuster.

But Trump has rejected that plan. And the measure is almost certainly a nonstarter in the House, where Speaker Paul Ryan has promised a vote on a conservative immigration measure championed by the chairmen of the Judiciary and Homeland Security Committees, if it has the support to pass.

"If we are hoping that Paul Ryan is going to have courage and that the House Republicans are going to be fair and decent and that a bill could emerge, we’re smoking something," Sharry said.

Monday’s Senate vote exposed a rift between moderate Democrats who are up for re-election this year in states won by Trump and their more liberal counterparts.

One of those Trump-state Democrats, Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, characterized the vote as a "big win for the Dreamers," adding that if the Senate passes a measure with more than 60 votes, it would "put a lot of pressure" on the House to act.

But more liberal Democrats, including Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, who voted against the spending measure, disagreed.

"The lesson to me is that a promise here is far less meaningful when there is no involvement by the House, not to mention the White House," he said, adding that he has "no confidence, zero, that Paul Ryan will bring a measure to the floor, in fact on the contrary."

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Back to work: Government shutdown ending as Dems relent