The Washington Post reported that, well aware of how favorable the bill was to their party, Democratic leaders instructed lawmakers not to show their winning hand until after President Trump had signed it.
Democrats, privately, were amused but made a conscious decision not to gloat — concerned that if they celebrated what they considered a victory Thursday they might anger Trump enough to veto the deal.
One conferee summarized the instructions from Democratic leaders: “Don’t poke the bear.”
Democrats had employed the same strategy in December 2015 when then-Speaker of the House Paul Ryan passed a $1.1 trillion 2016 spending bill. Behind closed doors, then-House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said, “Paul Ryan really gave away the store.” At the time, Roll Call reported:
Nancy Pelosi had instructed members in a closed-door meeting to “keep on their long faces” and not speak publicly about everything Democrats won in the omnibus, according to a senior House aide. She wanted them to avoid speaking about provisions they fought to include, as well as poison pill policy riders they insisted be removed, instead suggesting they just say they were “still reading the language” when asked how they planned to vote.
“Now they’re done, that’s it. There’s no way they can change the rule or anything like that; the speaker said it’s closed,” said Pelosi on Friday, “so we feel pretty good about bragging about what’s in the bill to get our votes and also not risking changing anything in the bill.”
Republicans have a long history of finishing last following negotiations with Democrats. Why did it happen this time? According to Breitbart’s Neil Munro, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer persuaded Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to “delegate immigration policy to the top leaders on the House and Senate appropriations committees. This allowed Democratic immigration experts — including Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy — to corner the top two GOP appropriations leaders, who care little about Trump’s immigration priorities, the impact of minor legal changes on migration patterns, or the voters’ preferences on immigration policy because their focus is on spending money.
Schumer boasted to Politico, “I said, ‘Here’s my proposal to you. Let’s do a conference committee. They are good at it, they get along, they’ve done the other six budget bills, they can do this. And he accepted. And I think that paved the way to getting this done.”
Sen. Richard Shelby briefed Trump periodically on the committee’s progress. Last weekend, Trump was angry when he discovered the proposed bill would decrease the number of detention beds he had requested. Democrats agreed to take that out so they could keep their “other gains, which include many curbs on enforcement, a temporary veto on wall construction for Texas Democrats, and a new amnesty hidden under the guise of protection for “Unaccompanied Alien Children.””
Thinking that Trump still might not sign the bill, the committee prepared a temporary budget, which unfortunately they never had to use.
In the tweet below, Munro said that McConnell and “GOP leaders and appropriators botch their immigration talks w/ ruthless Democrats, then bargain w/ Trump to avoid a veto by promising to back his national emergency declaration. Same Old: GOP pols fail on migration policy b/c they put biz $ first, every time.”
GOP leaders & appropriators botch their immigration talks w/ ruthless Democrats, then bargain w/ Trump to avoid a veto by promising to back his national emergency declaration. SameOld: GOP pols fail on migration policy b/c they put biz $ first, every time. https://t.co/lN2MNnzyV0
— Neil Munro (@NeilMunroDC) February 15, 2019
Although McConnell had been previously opposed to Trump’s use of a national emergency declaration to obtain border wall funding, he agreed to support it if Trump would sign the unfavorable bill.
Clearly, this one-sided bill was a gift to the Democrats and their private gloating is understandable. Republican efforts to spin it as a win ring hollow.
Still, a resumption of the partial government shutdown has been averted and Trump has gained the backing of McConnell and other GOP leaders for his national emergency declaration. And that’s not nothing.