“I don’t think it’s clear that either party has leverage.”
During a key immigration meeting with congressional leaders on Tuesday, President Donald Trump appeared to agree with almost every policy idea put in front of him on immigration, no matter what party it came from.
With a fast-approaching government funding deadline and possible government shutdown fight on January 19 in which immigration is the biggest sticking point, Trump saying yes to both Democratic and Republican demands presents an obvious problem — the two parties have significant disagreements on what immigration reform should look like.
But underneath the policy debates, there’s a larger question: Which party holds the political leverage in this fight?
The answer is complicated.
The recent election of Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) means that Senate Republicans have a razor-thin majority of 51 votes. They need 60 votes to pass a long-term spending bill. Democrats have made clear that whatever fiscal bill they pass should include a legislative fix for the young, unauthorized immigrants known as DREAMers. Republicans want to pass a standalone immigration bill with increased border security. The Trump administration recently brought back the demand of a border wall, a Democratic no-go.
On paper, Democrats have the leverage; Republicans need at least nine Democratic votes in the Senate to keep the government open. But Democrats’ path to getting what they want is politically risky, especially if they decide to force a government shutdown. Things are complicated by the fact that 2018 is a high-stakes election year that already has the makings of a blue wave — something Democrats don’t want to screw up.
“I don’t think it’s clear that either party has leverage,” said Frances Lee, a political science professor at the University of Maryland who studies Congress. “It’s a politically ambiguous moment.”