Senate Democrats agreed to reopen the federal government this week because they had reached an understanding with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on how to move forward with an immigration debate.
In the eyes of the activist base, that was the deal's flaw: McConnell has already reneged on promises he made to individual Republican senators to help get the tax bill passed. But Senate Democrats who supported the deal believed they had McConnell boxed in, committed publicly to advancing a bipartisan immigration bill through the Senate to address the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
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The McConnell pledge sets the contours for the next two weeks of negotiations, leading up to the next deadline, on February 8, when the government will once again need a spending bill to pass Congress. This is what the Republican leader, Washington's most renowned tactician, actually promised:
- If an immigration deal isn't reached by February 8, McConnell would bring a bill to the Senate floor for debate — though he did not specify which one.
- He has one condition: Senate Democrats can't shut down the government again on February 8, when the most recent short-term spending bill expires.
- The immigration debate would have a fair and open amendment process.
- The Republican leader used some classically ambiguous political language — "it would be my intention," etc. — but Senate Democrats believe they have him boxed in. McConnell has so publicly committed, before the Senate and the nation, that he won't be able to wriggle out of it, they said.
"I think he's made his commitments so publicly, so unequivocally, it would be very difficult for him to try to find a way out of meeting that commitment," Sen. Angus King (I-ME), who caucuses with the Democrats and voted to reopen the government, told me Monday.