The Democrats’ moral flip-flopping during the three-day-long January shutdown shows that 27 elected officials don’t know where they stand on the policy issue of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), an issue that will ultimately affect the lives of nearly 800,000 young undocumented immigrants living in this country. Democrats should have figured out their position before they executed the shutdown. Instead, their decisions demonstrated a common theme in politics today: policymakers do not have clear convictions, and their moral impotence is harming real people in this country.
In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past month or so, here’s a rundown of the latest edition of “Why the Federal Government is the Living Worst.”
Senate Democrats voted Jan. 18 to shut down the government because Trump ended the Obama-era DACA program by executive order in September. Democrats wanted to ensure that any spending bill passed would include protection for the almost 800,000 undocumented immigrants brought to America by their parents as children, also known as “Dreamers.” However, after only three days, the Senate voted to reopen the government by passing a temporary spending bill. Of the 43 Democrats who previously voted against the spending bill and shut down the government, 27 suddenly changed their minds. They claimed to have done this because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made them a promise to address the status of DACA recipients.
But Democrats didn’t really buy it.
Their mistrust is well founded, according to Michelle Goldberg of the New York Times.
“McConnell has already demonstrated that his word is worth little,” Goldberg wrote.
Senator Susan Collins — a member of McConnell’s own party — experienced the flimsiness of McConnell’s word firsthand in December when she claimed to have an “ironclad” promise from the majority leader, who said he would reduce cuts to healthcare if she voted for a tax bill. As of yet, he has made no effort to fulfill this promise. Senators Dick Durbin and Lindsey Graham also learned a similar lesson after McConnell had promised in December a vote on a bipartisan immigration agreement in January. Yet when the senators brought such an agreement to the floor, McConnell would not allow the Senate to consider it.
If the Democrats knew that McConnell’s word is terrible, they shouldn’t have been willing to cave and reopen the government so quickly. The real reason for their sudden approval of a DACA-recipient-protection-less spending bill could boil down to public opinion.
“Most voters do not want to see the government shut down over immigration,” Robert Costa, Erica Werner and Karen Tumulty wrote in the Washington Post.
For that matter, most voters don’t want to see the government shut down for any reason. In 2013, the Tea Party government shutdown had a meager 19 percent approval rating. Government shutdowns are unpopular among voters, so the Democrats shouldn’t have been surprised when the public reacted negatively. Despite expecting dissatisfaction among voters, Democrats claiming to support DACA should have remained opposed to passing a spending bill sans protections for DACA recipients. If a senator has repeatedly indicated a certain opinion about DACA recipients to their constituents, they must follow through. It’s unacceptable that the actions of Democrats, who largely claim to sympathize with DACA recipients, don’t indicate any sort of conviction one way or the other.
One official who at least appears to have a solid set of beliefs is House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who delivered an eight-hour speech on Feb. 7 with the goal of convincing Republicans to vote to protect DACA recipients if and when the time comes. Pelosi may have filled the longest speech in House history with empty promises that she and the Democrats have no clear way to keep, but her words at least demonstrated her personal commitment to the cause. That’s far more commitment than most other Democrats showed. Maybe her speech will finally bring some unity to the fractured party.
Not just senators, but policymakers at large (the president included) need to grow spines. The second government shutdown of 2018 occurred when Senator Rand Paul delayed a Senate vote past midnight Feb. 8 to oppose a bill that would add to the federal deficit, reminding his fellow Republicans that their actions were inconsistent with their rhetoric.
“If you were against President Obama’s deficits, and now you’re for the Republican deficits, isn’t that the very definition of hypocrisy?” Paul said.
Both shutdowns emphasized the two parties’ hypocritical attitudes. All elected officials need to look at the values of their constituents and use this information to develop some semblance of a moral code. Senators and elected officials at large need to figure out what they stand for and take a hardline approach to defend their principles. Though a willingness to compromise is an important part of any political process, the inability of policymakers to stick to their guns leads to exactly what happened with this shutdown: the inability to achieve a political goal.
If senators are elected to speak for the people, they’d better say something other than, “whatever, man.”
Sarah Gooderham is an undeclared first year. She can be reached at email@example.com.