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Schumer criticized by both sides for ‘caving’ on immigration issue

People protested Monday in New York over the lack of a deal on young immigrants in the government spending bill. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Republicans tried to make Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer the face of the government shutdown. Now, he’s becoming the face of the Democratic retreat in the fight to extend federal protections for young immigrants.

For two days, Schumer, perhaps the most powerful Democrat in Washington, succeeded in keeping his party unified in a bid to use the government funding fight to push for protections for some 700,000 immigrants brought to the US illegally as children.

But as the shutdown moved into its third day, the New York Democrat and his party buckled as several Democrats backed a deal to end the shutdown in exchange for a Republican pledge to address the immigration debate in the near future.


Schumer quickly became a punching bag for the right and left.

Immigration advocates and liberal leaders across the country hosted a conference call before Monday’s vote to encourage Schumer and other Democrats to oppose any deal that excluded “Dreamer” protections.

‘‘To anyone considering such a move, let me be clear: Promises won’t protect anyone from deportation,’’ said Greisa Martinez Rosas, herself a ‘‘Dreamer’’ and the advocacy director for the group United We Dream. ‘‘Delay means deportation for us.’’

Murshed Zaheed, political director for the liberal group CREDO, said after the vote: ‘‘It’s official: Chuck Schumer is the worst negotiator in Washington — even worse than Trump.’’

‘‘Schumer caved,’’ tweeted former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, an ally to President Trump. He added, ‘‘Lessons learned — Schumer burned.’’

Trump said the Democrats “have come to their senses” on shutdown, adding that he is open to a future immigration deal only if it is is “good for our country.”

Schumer had little margin for error in this first major test of his muscle and maneuvering as leader.

The pragmatist was balancing the demands of a liberal base eager for a fight with the president and the political realities of red-state senators anxious about their reelection prospects this fall.


As liberals embraced the fight, some vulnerable senators met with Schumer on Sunday morning and urged a compromise to end the shutdown.

‘‘The question is, how do we get out of here in a way that reflects what the majority of the body wants to do,’’ said Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, who is among the Democrats on the ballot in November. She added: ‘‘It is critically important that we get this done today.’’

In a bid to win over a few Democratic holdouts for the spending bill Monday, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell pledged to take up legislation on immigration and other top Democratic priorities if they weren’t already addressed by the time that extension is set to expire on Feb. 8.

The pledge from McConnell was enough to sway the handful of Democrats he needed to pass the spending bill.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer took most blame.Shawn Thew/EPAShutterstock

Democratic aides said that while Schumer, who spent the weekend calling members on his flip phone, initially appeared to be holding the party together, the desire to end the shutdown won out.

Despite controlling the White House and both chambers of Congress, Republicans pinned the blame for the shutdown squarely on Schumer, accusing him of being captive to liberals and advocacy groups which opposed any spending package that didn’t result in a solution for the young immigrants.

The White House and GOP officials branded the funding gap the ‘‘Schumer Shutdown,’’ spreading the phrase as a hashtag on social media.


Immigration advocates hoped Schumer would see that as badge of honor, but there was anxiety about his resolve.

‘‘He went to the mats,’’ said Frank Sharry, the executive director of the immigration advocacy group America’s Voice. ‘‘He had the backbone to lead his caucus into a high-stakes, high risk battle. It thrilled progressives.’’

Should Democrats blink first, he predicted, ‘‘The era of good feeling quickly will be replaced by anger and disappointment.’’

Schumer, a four-term senator, is viewed as more of a pragmatist than an ideologue.

In 2013, he was part of a bipartisan group of senators who worked on a sweeping overhaul of the nation’s fractured immigration laws. The package, which would have created a pathway to citizenship for millions of people in the country illegally, was narrowly approved in the Senate but never taken up by the House