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Shutdown vote divides Democrats – including Schumer and Gillibrand

WASHINGTON — For Democrats, Monday's Senate vote to end the three-day government shutdown pitted moderates against liberals, nervous incumbents against potential presidents, and New York's two U.S. senators against each other.

And that last disagreement – between Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand – perfectly illustrated the fix the Democratic minority finds itself in over an issue that caused the shutdown and could still cause another: what to do about upwards of 800,000 young people brought to America illegally by their parents.

Describing the deal he struck with Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to end the shutdown, Schumer once again blamed the fiasco on the shifting views of President Trump and the congressional GOP. He stressed that Democrats were, in his view, the only people in Washington trying to practice the art of the deal.

"Democrats have always sought to be reasonable, to act in good faith, and to get something real done," said Schumer, no doubt mindful of the eight potentially endangered Democrats in his caucus who are up for election this year and who almost always, therefore, aim to please the middle of the political spectrum.

To Schumer's left and voting "no" stood 16 of his fellow Democrats, including seven potential presidential candidates who may be more mindful of the liberal primary electorate of 2020 than they are of any immediate political threat.

Gillibrand echoed the thoughts of several of them, saying on Twitter she couldn't vote for an end to the shutdown because it did nothing to protect the "Dreamers" whose temporary legal status will expire March 5 unless Congress acts.

"I want to see the government re-open as much as anyone, but this bill fails to fix the moral issue we must solve," Gillibrand said. "That's why I voted against it."

The deal amounts to three weeks of government funding and a promise. Schumer agreed that he would support a temporary bill funding the government through Feb. 8 and extending the popular Children's Health Insurance Program for six years. In exchange, McConnell promised that he will allow a Senate vote on the DREAM Act, which would give those young illegal immigrants, who came to America through no decision of their own, permanent legal status.

Senate leaders reach deal to reopen government with help from bipartisan caucus

The Senate's 25-member "Common Sense Coalition" – a bipartisan group not unlike the House Problem Solvers Caucus chaired by Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning – pushed for such a solution. And several of the Democratic members of that coalition are, like Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, up for re-election this year in states that voted for Trump in 2016.

"We knew there was a path forward," said Manchin, adding: "Chuck and Mitch had to get together for the good of the country."

That seemed to be the consensus among red-state and swing-state Democratic senators up for re-election this year.

"Shutdown is over and we will now have the opportunity to have immigration issues come to the floor," tweeted Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri."And I am so encouraged that a large bipartisan group of Senators worked TOGETHER to help make it happen. Proud to be a part of that."

Manchin, McCaskill and three other Democratic senators stood strong against the shutdown from the start. Four of the five – every one but the newly elected Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama – are running for election this fall.

Meantime, half of the 28 Democrats who flipped on the issue – voting, in essence, for a shutdown Friday and voting to end it on Monday – are up for re-election, too. Those lawmakers, such as Sen. Robert Casey of Pennsylvania, tended to echo Schumer's thoughts, blaming Republicans for the shutdown and vowing to make sure that McConnell allows a vote on the DREAM Act.

"Republicans in Washington, including President Trump, provoked this shutdown and created this crisis because of their failure to focus on the middle class," Casey said. "I will hold them accountable on the promises they have made.”

Higgins, Slaughter split on spending bill

But the far left reacted with outrage.

“This deal was morally reprehensible and political malpractice," said Ezra Levin, co-executive director of the Indivisible Project, a progressive group that's been leading the resistance to Trump. "It’s Senator Schumer’s job to keep his caucus together and fight for progressive values. He failed in that today."

Not surprisingly, potential Democratic presidential contenders – who would have to cater to the party's increasingly liberal base in the Democratic primaries – were equally aghast.

"The Majority Leader’s comments fell far short of the ironclad guarantee I needed to support a stopgap spending bill," tweeted Sen. Kamala Harris of California. "I refuse to put the lives of nearly 700,000 young people in the hands of someone who has repeatedly gone back on his word."

Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts agreed.

"We don't need new promises," she tweeted. "We need new laws."

Another possible presidential candidate, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, was equally blunt.

"I made a commitment a long time ago that I wouldn’t vote for yet another (spending bill) that didn’t include a solution for Dreamers," Booker said. "My position hasn’t changed."

Gillibrand, meanwhile, said she was "deeply disappointed" that the short-term spending bill does nothing for the Dreamers.

But Schumer advised patience.

"I am confident that there are sixty votes in the Senate" for a bill to help the Dreamers, he said. "And now there is a real pathway to get a bill on the floor and through the Senate."

And now, too, there is a real pathway for endangered Democratic senators to escape the blame for a long shutdown.

“I honestly expected this to go on a bit longer," said Jacob Neiheisel, an assistant professor of political science at the University at Buffalo. "It makes you wonder whether the Democrats' internal polls are showing that they are getting beat up over this in some closely divided states."

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