Nation & World

Government reopens after deal struck by unusual bipartisan group

Democrats back down on GOP promise to take up 'Dreamers' immigration policy

WASHINGTON — In the end, it was neither the self-proclaimed deal making President Donald Trump nor seasoned congressional leaders who found a path to end — at least for now — the government shutdown.

Rather, the agreement emerged from a fledgling caucus of impassioned moderates from both political parties who, if they aren’t sidelined in days ahead by a partisan resurgence, could grow into a new power center in the Senate.

The House and Senate approved a compromise Monday to extend government spending until Feb. 8, clearing the way for government offices to reopen Tuesday.

The deal, which was signed off on by Trump, also reauthorizes the Children’s Health Insurance Program for six years and rolls back several health care taxes.

“I am pleased that Democrats in Congress have come to their senses,” Trump said in a statement. He vowed to “work toward solving the problem of very unfair illegal immigration.”

The deal was struck by 30 or so senators calling themselves the Common Sense Caucus.

Now many lawmakers in both parties hope the moderate group will continue to exert its influence to break the logjam, though a few ideological factions were plotting how to stamp it out.

Democrats, in particular, need to hold the center together to quickly craft an immigration deal to protect “Dreamers,” as the party comes under criticism from its progressive wing.

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Liberals complained Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., and others folded by agreeing to reopen the government after three days without extracting a firm commitment from the Republicans.

The Senate voted overwhelmingly, 81-18, to pass the three-week spending bill. In the House, Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., marshaled his majority for approval, 266-150, with six Republicans and 144 Democrats opposed.

In return for Democrats’ support, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., agreed to consider legislation to help Dreamers as part of an immigration compromise that also is likely to include border security and other measures. Protections against the deportation of Dreamers will end March 5 because Trump is terminating the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

“Now comes the test, the real test, of whether we can get this done,” said Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill.

He promised Democrats would not relent. “To all the Dreamers who are watching today: Don’t give up,” he said.

Those promises, though, were met with skepticism by advocates for the nearly 700,000 young people who were brought to the United States illegally when they were children.

“It’s official: Chuck Schumer is the worst negotiator in Washington,” said Murshed Zaheed, political director of CREDO, an advocacy group. He said any plan that relies on GOP leaders to keep their promises is “doomed to fail.”

Trump capitalized on the divisions, declaring “Democrats caved,” in a fundraising email.

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Democrats initially were cool to McConnell’s offer when it was presented Sunday, wanting more than a promise.

Fifteen Democrats, including California Sens. Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein, and other leading liberals, voted to continue the filibuster, as did Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent. Two Republicans, Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah, who oppose spending levels, voted with them.

McConnell initially offered a measured tone ahead of the vote, refraining from accusing Democrats of putting “illegal immigration” ahead of the country’s needs, as he had much of the weekend. But after the vote, he resumed blasting Democrats.

Even so, he promised to give immigration a fair airing. “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.

For many, the gatherings of the Common Sense Caucus in the office of Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, offered a glimpse of how a new Senate could break from partisanship to govern.

The group included red state Democrats, Sens. Joe Manchin, D-Va.; Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., and others such as Sens. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. all up for re-election in the fall.

Among the Republicans were dealmakers Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker of Tennessee and Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, but also newer brokers like Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., who is running the GOP’s re-election committee, and Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., a former governor.

The path ahead, though, remains difficult with some 17 days to reach consensus on major issues, including spending levels, disaster relief and opioid funding.

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The immigration debate will be most daunting, reminiscent of 2013 when the Senate passed an ambitious immigration overhaul only to see it ignored by the GOP-led House as “amnesty.”

The Tribune Washington Bureau and Washington Post contributed.

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