DACA negotiations: Key questions to avoiding a shutdown

For all the ongoing negotiations, groups, and proposals related to the expiring Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, senior Republicans in both chambers have shifted gears fully to the idea that the government will need to be funded on January 19 without a DACA solution.

Even the most optimistic say the chance of any agreement on immigration proposals coming together that Republican leaders are willing to move forward on isn’t in the cards.

The two key questions

Again, work on DACA is still underway on several fronts (which is part of the problem), but that calculation by GOP leadership raises two questions that must be answered affirmatively — or a government shutdown is really on the table:

1. Can House Republicans secure 218 votes for a short-term spending bill on their own — as they did in December — even though the promises made to defense hawks haven’t been fulfilled?

2. Can Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pick off a handful of Democrats for a short-term spending bill in the Senate despite how furious the base is over DACA and how much the caucus wants to stay unified?

If the answer is “no” to one or both of the above, there’s a shutdown problem.

But will a shutdown happen?

Nobody in either party’s leadership wants it. That’s about as far as you can go in stating what’s going to happen at this point.

What Senate Republicans think: There’s no way Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer can keep the entire caucus together — especially those in tough 2018 races in Trump-friendly states — to oppose a short-term spending bill on DACA grounds. And if it looks like he can, keep in mind that things like the re-authorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and a more than-$80 billion disaster relief package, can also be brought up by McConnell to make that vote especially painful.

What Senate Democrats think: To be perfectly clear, the caucus isn’t unified on this, but for the large majority of the caucus, this isn’t a bluff. This issue is real, the moment is now, the mechanism is the spending bill and the reasons — the approximately 700,000 DACA recipients, thousands of whom had already lost their protection due to the administration’s decision — are at the core of what they believe and campaign on.

Just saying: Yes, Republicans have serious problems finding a way forward on this in their conferences (especially in the House.) But it’s not like Democrats are in lock step on supporting whatever bipartisan agreement is released. Many, especially in the House, are extremely uncomfortable with the direction the talks have headed.

Can a DACA agreement still come together?

Yes. Absolutely. The issue is timing. And policy.

Two things to note here: First, there is genuine desire to deal with this issue — it’s very personal for a lot of members and senators — and GOP leaders know they need to get it off their plate as soon as possible or face a 2018 poisoned by the issue.

But the best chance for a bipartisan deal to date — the Senate working group that has been at it for months — has headed in a direction a majority of the Republicans in the conference are unwilling to go, many senators and aides tell me.

And yet: That bipartisan working group — Sens. Dick Durbin, Jeff Flake, Lindsey Graham, Michael Bennet, Cory Gardner and Bob Menendez — has continued to hammer away at this and should have some kind of product in the coming days, sources say. We’ll see if that changes the direction of things, which at this point, is in an absurdly muddled place.

The key player: It’s the President. Period. He can and likely will make or break whatever proposals (that are deemed serious) come out. And the work behind the scenes between competing interests and close allies (think Sen. Tom Cotton on one side and Graham on the other) is a fascinating dynamic to keep an eye on at this point.