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Budget bill reveals rift among Schumer and presidential possibilities

WASHINGTON — A bipartisan budget deal that dodged a key immigration issue Thursday revealed a rift that could haunt Democrats for years: one between moderates such as Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and potential presidential candidates — including Schumer's New York colleague, Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand — who may want to appeal to the party's increasingly liberal base.

The rift didn't appear to threaten passage of the budget deal, which Schumer struck with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican.

But the budget package did pit Schumer against many of the other major figures in his party, including Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California.

Gillibrand echoed the concerns of all those progressive lawmakers, who raged about the fact that the deal decoupled the budget from the fate of the "Dreamers," young undocumented immigrants brought to America by their parents.

Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand has broken from party leadership over a budget bill. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News file photo)

“I have made it clear that I won’t vote for any long-term spending deal that doesn’t include protections for our Dreamers," Gillibrand said in a statement. "Republican leadership has refused to do the morally right thing by protecting the young people who know only this country as their home. We shouldn’t allow our young people to be used as bargaining chips in this country."

Amid what appeared to be growing liberal opposition to the bill, Schumer urged patience, saying senators could strike a bipartisan deal on immigration, just as they did on the budget.

"In the Senate, I know that everyone on the Democratic side and many on the Republican side are working hard to find a bill that protects the Dreamers and provides border security that can pass next week," he said on the Senate floor. "We know it’s a difficult task. We know immigration is one of the more volatile issues in America, but we have to do it for the good of this country."

The Democratic dust-up is occurring because President Trump canceled an Obama-era program aimed at giving upwards of 800,000 young immigrants temporary legal protection. That program now expires March 5. Trump has called on Congress to come up with a permanent solution for the Dreamers, but talks on the issue between the White House and Congress reached an impasse that led to a brief government shutdown earlier in late January.

Sean Kirst: For Buffalo's 'dreamers,' hopes on hold as end of DACA looms

The Schumer-McConnell budget deal separated the Dreamer issue from the budget process, leading to anger among advocates for those young immigrants.

"Chuck Schumer has failed to be the strategist we need to win," Greisa Martinez Rosas, advocacy director for United We Dream, said in a statement Wednesday.

Potential Democratic presidential candidates didn't take aim at Schumer in that way, but they did take aim at his handiwork.

"This bill does not address the great moral issue of our time – the fact that in three weeks 800,000 young Dreamers will lose their legal status and be subject to deportation," said Sanders, who also objected to the bill's increase in defense spending.

Warren, meanwhile, praised the budget bill's increase in spending on social programs but lamented the fact that it doesn't protect the Dreamers.

"Until that happens, I cannot support it," she said.

Nevertheless, the Dreamers' leading longtime advocate in the Senate, Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois, said he was confident that senators can strike an immigration deal.

"It is my sincere hope we will have a bipartisan breakthrough on the Dreamers next week," said Durbin, the Democratic whip.

Liberal opposition wasn't limited to potential presidential candidates, though. A day after commandeering the House floor for eight hours to defend the Dreamers, Pelosi sent a letter to her colleagues saying she opposed the budget deal because she doesn't trust House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, to allow Democrats to work with Republicans on immigration legislation.

But Pelosi's letter did not urge her colleagues to oppose the budget bill. Rep. Brian Higgins, a Buffalo Democrat, expressed tentative support for the measure Wednesday. And Democratic sources on both sides of Capitol Hill said they expected the bill to pass just because many lawmakers can't stomach the thought of another government shutdown over the issue of the Dreamers.

And while potential Democratic presidential candidates were coming out against the budget measure, red-state Democrats up for re-election this year announced their support for it.

Sen. Jon Tester of Montana praised the bill for increasing funding for community health centers in his state, and Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri lauded the fact that it includes $6 billion in funding for fighting opioid abuse.

"It’s a positive step away from the kind of brinksmanship and stop-gap funding measures that have undermined Missourians’ confidence in their government," McCaskill said of the budget deal.

Neither Tester nor McCaskill even mentioned the Dreamers in their statements on the deal, but for her part, Gillibrand made clear that she is putting a premium on the Dreamers as well as New Yorkers.

"I believe senators on both sides of the aisle should fight for these kids as hard as we would fight for our own families," she said.

White House makes hard-line demands for any 'Dreamers' deal



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