San Antonio Express-News: Deal cancels shutdown
WASHINGTON — Federal agencies shuttered in a fight over immigration were set to reopen today after Senate Democrats bowed to pressure and agreed to a spending compromise in return for a promise to take up debate on the expiring Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program by early next month.
The government will continue operating through Feb. 8, at which time the fractious Congress faces yet another round of decisions not just about immigration but also long-term military spending and disaster relief for Texas and other states and territories battered by disasters last year.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced Monday his intention to negotiate a DACA deal by Feb. 8 and put legislation on the floor by then to resolve the status of some 700,000 undocumented young immigrants — 124,000 of them in Texas — brought to the U.S. as children.
Senate Democrats, despite blowback from liberal allies, accepted McConnell’s offer and agreed to keep the government running for three weeks rather than four, a proposal most in their party rejected Friday night. The House later accepted the plan.
The agreement paves the way for what is shaping up as an immigration debate that goes well beyond the initial goal of fixing DACA.
President Donald Trump, relatively quiet during the brief spending lapse, declared in a statement that he was pleased that Democrats “have come to their senses” to end the shutdown. Later Monday night, Trump signed the bill funding the government through Feb. 8.
“As I have always said, once the government is funded, my administration will work toward solving the problem of very unfair illegal immigration. We will make a long-term deal on immigration if, and only if, it is good for our country,” Trump said in the statement.
After March 5, DACA recipients would no longer be able to renew work permits, which has been interpreted as leaving them subject to deportation. The process became further muddied this month by a federal court ruling ordering the administration to resurrect part of the program, a ruling that the Trump administration has asked the Supreme Court to review.
After negotiations over the weekend between Democrats and GOP moderates, McConnell, R-Ken., committed to a timetable that could put the Senate on the path to giving DACA recipients protections — and perhaps a pathway to citizenship.
“Let me be clear. This immigration debate will have a level playing field at the outset and an amendment process that is fair to all sides,” he said.
The shutdown had limited effect, given that it landed over a weekend.
In San Antonio, Air Force Col. Sean McKenna started his morning Monday by writing variations of a form letter to civil service staffers deemed “non-essential” personnel. He then called all 10 of the workers into his office, where they sat at a large conference table.
“This is a difficult day to conduct business not only because of folks not being here, but a lot of people we deal with at other parts of the process aren’t at work either, so getting things done while the government is at a stop is difficult,” said McKenna, who oversees personnel and logistics for the Air Force Recruiting Service.
McKenna said he was relieved that the shutdown is ending “because I value my team, and having 40 percent of my team not at work is no way to do business.”
Thousands of civilians throughout the San Antonio area were likely home Monday afternoon after getting furlough notices.
Yet even with so many people idled, things were still getting done — especially in the military’s training community, which has a huge footprint on San Antonio’s three bases and the Camp Bullis training range in Northwest Bexar County.
“The good-news story is that applicants are shipping to basic training tomorrow. Tuesday is our ship date,” said Leslie Brown, the Air Force Recruiting Service’s chief of public affairs.
Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff offered tepid applause for news of the shutdown’s end.
“At least it’s a step forward, but not a very good one: three weeks,” he said. “It took months to resolve this. I don’t know that it’s going to be any better in three weeks from now, but at least we’ve got a chance.”
After three days of blame, political theater and #Schumer-Shutdown versus #TrumpShutdown hashtag competition, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer declared Monday that he would accept McConnell’s offer.
The legislation approved by the Senate 81-18 includes a six-year extension for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which covers 9 million low-income children. Funding in Texas was scheduled to run out next month.
“I’m confident that we can get the 60 votes in the Senate for a DACA bill. And now there is a real pathway to get a bill on the floor and through the Senate,” said Schumer, D-N.Y.
Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas was among six GOP senators, all of them immigration hawks, who visited the White House on Monday to meet with Trump about the coming negotiation.
“What do they have to show for that?” Cornyn said, referring to Democrats. “To my mind, they got nothing to show for that. Sure, they got a commitment from Mr. McConnell to take up immigration in February. He was going to do that anyway.”
Cornyn referred to a statement of principles spelled out at a bipartisan White House meeting two weeks ago before Trump made contradictory and reportedly crude statements about immigrants that, by most accounts, set back negotiations.
As part of a DACA fix, Cornyn said, the White House will require new border security and interior enforcement provisions, as well as changes in the family-based visa system and the Diversity Visa Lottery program, which yields about 50,000 visas to applicants from smaller countries.
Cornyn raised the prospect of reallocating visas from both programs to applicants on the basis of merit, a system some in Congress have proposed for broader immigration overhaul.
“So back we go to the drawing boards. No one pretends that this solution is easy, but it’s one we’re committed to address,” he said.
GOP Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas signaled that he’ll be among those driving a hard bargain.
“I think there’s a lot we should do on immigration. But I think it would be a serious mistake for us to pass an amnesty bill providing amnesty and a path to citizenship for millions of people here illegally,” he said. “Congress might do that. I hope it doesn’t, and I think doing so would be inconsistent with the promises we made the American people in 2016.”
In the House, San Antonio Democrat Lloyd Doggett was among many in his party voting against the funding extension.
“After more than four months, there’s still no certainty for our military, government contractors, community health centers, Dreamers and their employers,” Doggett said of the spending extensions.
The Democrats’ decision to halt the shutdown split the party and angered some of its liberal backers. Senators voting against ending the shutdown included several mentioned as 2020 candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination: Kamala Harris of California, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
Bill Lambrecht reported from Washington, and Sig Christenson reported from San Antonio.