WASHINGTON ― With the Senate expected to easily pass a bipartisan spending deal, and House Republicans generally falling in line, the big question on Thursday ― just hours before a government shutdown ― has become House Democrats.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was coy Thursday morning, telling reporters that she personally wouldn’t support the bill, but that she still felt it was a good deal for Democrats.
“I’m just telling people why I’m voting the way I’m voting,” Pelosi said at a press conference.
But a couple of hours later, after Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) once again refused to give Pelosi the assurances she’s demanded for an open process on an immigration bill, Democrats seemed to change their mind about not whipping against the spending deal.
“Unlike in the Senate, there is no agreement that the House will even consider legislation to protect DREAMers. By leaving this vital issue unresolved, this package leaves DREAMers isolated, without a path to resolution in the House,” a Democratic whip notice said.
Just because leaders are urging a no vote, however, doesn’t mean they’re truly pushing Democrats to vote down the spending bill. One senior Democratic aide said Pelosi’s tepid opposition has been signal enough for some Democrats that, even with that whip notice, there will be no repercussions for voting yes on the bill.
“We still know this is a good bill for Democrats,” the aide said.
At the moment, the Democratic whip operation seems to be less about pushing for a certain outcome and more about figuring out where their caucus stands.
In a letter to her Democratic colleagues Thursday afternoon, Pelosi laid out the reasons why she opposed the bill and added that Ryan’s refusal to move forward in a bipartisan way on immigration “demeans the dignity of the House of Representatives.”
However, she did not explicitly urge her caucus to vote against the budget legislation.
“The Republicans do not have the votes to pass this caps bill on their own,” Pelosi wrote. “House Democrats have a voice here and we must be heard.”
On their side, House Republicans still expect a healthy number of defections, possibly into the high double digits, but many Republicans appear to be falling in line. Even people whom you might expect to vote no ― for example, Freedom Caucus member Gary Palmer (R-Ala.) and former Freedom Caucus member Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.) ― were sounding noncommittal either way on Thursday.
How much leverage Democrats have in this showdown will depend greatly on how many votes Republicans can put up. If there are 40 Democratic yes votes no matter what leadership says, and there are only around 60 Republican no votes, Democratic leadership will have a tough time in any effort to extract a firmer promise from Speaker Ryan on immigration. And if there are around 100 Democrats who want to vote yes, then leadership is just posturing to save face with progressives and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, which still thinks Democrats should get a firm promise on the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals program before they give Republicans any votes.
In part to give a voice to that wing of her party, Pelosi launched a marathon speech Wednesday in support of Dreamers that set a record for the longest continuous remarks on the House floor. The California Democrat spoke for just over eight hours, urging Republicans to bring a bill to the floor that would address DACA.
But some Democrats were dismayed that Pelosi, who is known for maintaining unwavering control over her caucus, did not go far enough in opposing the spending legislation.
“I say to everybody: Don’t collude with this administration,” Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.), a leading voice on immigration among his Democratic colleagues, pleaded Thursday on the House floor. “Vote against the budget.”
It’s clear there will be a solid bloc of Democrats voting against the budget deal, which would provide $80 billion for defense and $63 billion for non-defense above the spending caps this year, and another $85 billion more for defense and $68 billion more for non-defense in the following year. In total, there would be about $300 billion more than allowed under the spending caps that Congress set for itself in 2011. The agreement would also provide $140 billion in war funding and $20 billion more for other emergency spending.
A vote is likely Thursday afternoon in the Senate, where the bill should pass handily. The House would then vote later Thursday evening or potentially in the early morning hours of Friday, depending on time agreements in the Senate and how long it takes to formally get the bill to the House. With government funding set to expire at midnight, any hiccup could cause a shutdown, but leaders still seemed confident earlier in the day.
When Ryan was asked about the prospects for passage on Thursday morning, he said, “I feel good.”