House Democratic leaders took the extraordinary step of telling vulnerable lawmakers in a Saturday morning meeting that they might fail in their efforts to pass legislation to extend protections for the young undocumented immigrants known as “Dreamers” without Republican cooperation, according to multiple sources familiar with the situation.
The plan, three sources said, was to remind House Democrats — who are out of session next week and face re-election next year — how bad a failure would be, namely by emboldening GOP voters who might rebuke Democratic lawmakers who voted against the package.
“It was trying to say, you know what, it’s not going to be the end of the world if we fail,” said one Democratic lawmaker present at the meeting.
Another member added: “They were like, ‘You’re going to be known by history as one of the people who voted for [Hurricane] Harvey and who voted against [Hurricane] Maria, and you’re going to be known by history as one of the people who voted against DACA.’”
The interventions came after all House Democrats voted as a bloc on Tuesday to pass legislation to extend the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — a move President Donald Trump has repeatedly vowed to scrap. Trump has said he will withdraw DACA and any legislation replacing it.
While a combination of bills also passed the Senate last week, it remained unlikely that the measure could make it through the Republican-controlled House.
The lawmakers who attended the meeting said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and the group’s top leaders, including Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and Policy Committee Chairman James Clyburn, D-S.C., took full responsibility for the effort’s failure to gain enough Republican support. Hoyer and Clyburn both opposed the GOP immigration measure.
All the Democratic members present at the meeting, the lawmakers said, agreed on the underlying merits of the legislation, and Pelosi said she was doing her best to identify “shepherd dogs” in the Republican caucus who were willing to help the effort. Several members said at the meeting they believed the time was approaching for Pelosi to say it was time to act, citing the midterm elections and the desire of many Democrats to secure the votes necessary to win back the House.
But with little chance of a bill with Republican support becoming law, some lawmakers were left questioning the wisdom of Pelosi’s suggestion that those Democrats who voted no, and the Democratic Party, take on greater responsibilities.
“We must make the real choice,” wrote Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich., on Twitter after the meeting. “Do we want to be a party of constructive and adult in the room? Or do we believe we can afford the biggest ego trip in congressional history and hope someone else takes the hit?”
A spokesman for Pelosi declined to comment on the story. But even some members who voted in favor of the immigration measure expressed frustration with the memo, saying that they had not been told about it in advance, and that it did not reflect the actual dynamics of the Democratic caucus.
“That doesn’t make sense,” said Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., the party’s deputy chairman.