TRUSTING MITCH McCONNELL might seem risky — just ask Susan Collins — but senators made the right call Monday when they ended a brief government shutdown in exchange for a pledge by the Senate majority leader to hold a vote on immigration soon. Federal agencies are expected to reopen Tuesday, ending an unnecessary interruption to some government services.
In total, the government was closed for less than three days. The impasse began after the House passed a short-term budget bill to keep the government’s lights on, but the measure stalled in the Senate over whether to include unrelated protections from deportation for undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children.
The compromise on Monday gives both parties room to claim victory. Republicans can say that the Democrats backed down without getting any immigration language into the bill. (Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey, Massachusetts’ senators, voted against the measure, both citing the failure to protect unauthorized immigrants, among their concerns.) Still, the specificity of what McConnell said on Monday, and the implication of what he didn’t say, were both encouraging developments.
Crucially, McConnell signaled a willingness to hold a vote even without sign-off from President Trump, whose shifting positions on immigration have made him a completely unreliable negotiating partner. “For the first time, we have the majority leader move off of ‘we can only move something if the president agrees,’ ” said Arizona Senator Jeff Flake, a Republican who backs the immigration proposal and switched to a “yes” vote after McConnell made his promise.
If McConnell’s word proves reliable, then the Senate could pass legislation to protect immigrants in coming weeks. The so-called Dream Act would protect 800,000 young people, many of whom have made their lives here, from deportation. The measure enjoys broad support in polls, and has significant GOP support.
If McConnell breaks his vow, though, a Democratic filibuster on the next bill to keep the government open — Monday’s vote only keeps the government open for three weeks — wouldn’t be the answer.
The filibuster power lets just 41 senators prevent legislation from coming to the floor for a vote. It’s how the minority party can bottle up Senate legislation. But using it to block the budget allowed Trump and the Republicans to turn the spotlight away from their own divisions, and blame Democrats for holding the everyday workings of government hostage to a policy demand. Democrats especially should be keen not to create any new precedents on use of the filibuster, since in the long run they have more to lose from a rule that only adds to the power of sparsely populated states.
Americans should be able to use their national parks, talk to federal agencies, and access services. Dreamers should be able to stay in the only country many of them know. Those two priorities shouldn’t be pitted against each other again.