The Aftermath Of Schumer’s Shutdown

January 25, 2018

The swiftness with which events erupt in Washington and then disappear is enough to raise doubts about Einstein’s theory that nothing moves faster than the speed of light. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer ought to hope his latest gambit vanishes quickly, too.

On behalf of a seemingly united Democratic Party, Mr. Schumer threatened to shut down the government unless Congress passed a fix for Dreamers, undocumented immigrants brought here as children. Three days later, Mr. Schumer caved.

Democrats were in fact neither united nor in possession of a strategy to back up the threat. Now the anger among progressives at Mr. Schumer for giving in may boost left-wingers in House primaries, making it more difficult for Democrats to win swing districts in November.

Mr. Schumer should have remembered that, at least in the short run, whoever causes a shutdown loses. In 2013 Republican Sen. Ted Cruz convinced the GOP House it could defund ObamaCare. Republicans took the blame for the subsequent shutdown, since it was obvious to the media and voters that they lacked any strategy to force Democrats’ hand. Mr. Cruz yielded, and the GOP’s numbers tanked.

While Republicans picked up nine Senate seats and 13 House seats in the 2014 midterms, the gains were despite the shutdown, not because of it. Of the five Republican congressmen who flipped Democratic Senate seats, none made support for the shutdown a principal campaign issue. Then as now, most voters don’t think there’s ever a good reason to shut down Washington, even if they agree with the policy it is supposed to achieve.

A Jan. 19 Harvard/Harris poll found 58% of voters opposed “Democrats voting to shut the government down” over work permits for Dreamers. CNN’s Jan. 18 survey found 56% of adults believed “approving a budget agreement that would avoid a government shutdown” was more important than “passing legislation to maintain the program which allows immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children to remain in the U.S.” This is why nine of the 10 Democratic senators up for re-election in states President Trump won in 2016 voted to reopen the government.

Still, while Democrats lost on the process question of closing the government, Americans overwhelmingly want Dreamers to stay. For example, a Jan. 16 CBS News survey found 87% of adults supported allowing “young immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children to remain in the country,” while 11% were opposed. Likewise, the recent CNN poll showed 82% backed “a plan to allow some people living in the U.S. illegally to become legal residents,” while 14% favored “deporting all people living in the U.S. illegally.”

Therein lies the challenge. Most Americans seek compromise and resolution, but a substantial minority of each party’s base wants purism. Both sides can get some of what they want on immigration—a Dreamer fix for Democrats, more border security for Republicans—only if they don’t insist on getting everything.

Republicans should recall that in the 2016 exit poll only 13% of voters said immigration was the most important issue facing the country. More than half, 52%, said the economy was. Resolving immigration would allow the GOP to focus more on the economy.

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In the Harvard poll, only 20% of voters thought they would get a tax cut in 2018, while 30% said they wouldn’t and 50% didn’t know. Yet 65% believed taxes should be lowered. Maybe the talk in the past month of bonuses and raises is why the Democrats’ advantage on the generic 2018 ballot has narrowed from 13 points just before Christmas to 7.8 points now. That gap could close further when the new withholding rules go into effect in February, directly increasing millions of workers’ paychecks.

In the summer of 2017, according to a Washington Post/ABC poll, a majority of adults said that rather than “standing for something,” the Democratic Party “just stands against President Trump.” It’s hard to believe much has changed in the past six months. This suggests Democrats would benefit from finally developing an agenda—something very difficult for a party so obsessed with opposing Mr. Trump that it often seems unable to think straight.

Monday’s vote to reopen the government temporarily ended the confrontation and postponed the reckoning. When short-term funding runs out Feb. 8, both parties have an interest in settling the budget and acting on immigration. Voters are sick to death of this mess.

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