House Democrats are holding firm in opposition to a short-term spending bill, even as Republicans in both chambers struggle to round up enough votes to keep the government open beyond Friday.
House Democratic leaders have been preaching a message of unity to their members all week, emphasizing that sticking together is their biggest leverage point to force Republicans into serious negotiations to protect Dreamers.
"This is like giving you a bowl of doggy doo, put a cherry on top and called it chocolate sundae," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters Thursday.
Lawmakers remain at an impasse over the fate of the roughly 700,000 young undocumented immigrants facing deportation, with enough members in both chambers threatening to withhold their votes on a spending bill that a government shutdown is a very real possibility.
“We’ve had plenty of time to address the Dreamers, now’s the time,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), whose northern Virginia district is heavily populated with government employees.
Connolly said given the demographics of his district, he would only vote for the continuing resolution if he was the “last vote standing” between a government shutdown or not.
A significant number of Senate Democrats have publicly said they will vote against the spending bill, upping the chances for the first government shutdown since 2013.
House Democrats say they’re cognizant of how the vote affects their colleagues in the Senate. If many House Democrats supported the spending bill – even after Republicans had enough votes to pass the measure – that could make it harder for Senate Democrats to stand firm in their opposition.
“I think we understand the connections between the two, they’re not separate standalone actions,” Connolly said. “What we do here does have an impact there and what they do there does have an impact. So we need to be mindful of that.”
Around a dozen vulnerable Democrats voted for the last two stopgap funding bills in December — but only after Republicans had enough votes for passage.
Now Democratic aides say they don’t expect that many members to cross the aisle if Republicans round up 218 votes, saying even vulnerable members are livid that GOP leaders seem to be stalling on immigration talks.
Republicans had hoped adding a few policy riders to the stopgap spending bill – particularly a long-term reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program – would woo enough Democrats to support the bill to ensure passage.
As of Thursday afternoon, the 194-member Democratic Caucus is intent on holding together in opposition as Republicans double and triple check their whip count before an expected vote later Thursday.
Multiple lawmakers said a tweet from President Donald Trump Thursday morning questioning why a reauthorization of funding for children's health was attached to the short-term bill.
“They were thinking that was a sweetener to get Democratic support,” Connolly said of House GOP leaders. “And the president has just given Democrats the talking point they need.. Well, we agree with the president.”
Meanwhile, Democrats continue to exert public and private pressure on Republicans to negotiate on immigration.
Pelosi called Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) earlier this week and urged him to bring two immigration bills to the floor for a vote — a hard-line conservative measure sponsored by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and a bipartisan proposal from Reps. Will Hurd (R-Texas) and Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.).
Democrats think the Goodlatte bill would fail on the floor while the Hurd-Aguilar proposal, which has more than 50 bipartisan cosponsors, could pass. Members of the House Freedom Caucus have also been pushing Ryan to bring the Goodlatte bill up for a vote, threatening to withhold their votes for a spending bill if he doesn’t do so.
Ryan responded to Pelosi's request by saying he “couldn’t do that,” according to two Democratic sources. Ryan’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Separately, the deputy leaders in the House and Senate — Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) — will huddle again on immigration Thursday afternoon.
The group met Wednesday with White House Chief of Staff John Kelly but lawmakers made little progress in the talks. The Thursday meeting will focus specifically on Dreamers, according to a source with knowledge of the plans, and not the other policy changes under consideration, including border security.
DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen will also attend Thursday's meeting.