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House Democrats May Go There and Back to Retreat

Caucus confab scheduled in the middle of latest shutdown showdown

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Joseph Crowley, D-N.Y., says Democrats have flexibility in their plans to get to and from their retreat if they’re needed back in Washington because of a shutdown this week. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Joseph Crowley, D-N.Y., says Democrats have flexibility in their plans to get to and from their retreat if they’re needed back in Washington because of a shutdown this week. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

House Democrats have built flexibility into their retreat in Cambridge, Md., Wednesday through Friday should they need to return to Washington to deal with a Senate amendment to a House funding bill and have even begun plotting their leverage on that measure.

“We’re totally flexible,” House Democratic Caucus Chairman Joseph Crowley said. “We’re being very flexible, depending what happens. We’ll play it by ear,” the New Yorker added.

With the House voting on a stopgap funding bill Tuesday — Democrats plan to oppose the bill because it fully funds defense programs without doing the same for domestic ones  — the caucus’s plan remains to leave Wednesday for Cambridge and begin their retreat “until we have a firm sense of what’s happening,” the New York Democrat said.

Government funding is set to expire at the end of the day Thursday, and Democrats’ retreat is scheduled to run until midday Friday. Crowley said they’ve got buses ready on standby if House Democrats need to return to Washington early.

“We’ll be ready and prepared to be back for any and all votes,” he said. “Unlike the Republicans, we’re not that far away.”

Republicans held their retreat last week in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., which is about 240 miles from D.C.

House Democrats are busing to their retreat, which is approximately 85 miles from the Capitol. 

If the Senate does send an amended measure back while Democrats are at their retreat, they’ll likely spend some time discussing their response.

“It remains to be seen just exactly what’s specifically in it,” Crowley said. “We can’t talk about the abstract.”

But some House Democrats have begun contemplating the leverage they would have under one possible response — the Senate sending back a continuing resolution for all agencies but with a bipartisan agreement on raising the budget caps for defense and nondefense spending and possibly a debt ceiling extension.

Such a move would repel House conservatives, meaning Speaker Paul D. Ryan would need to turn to Democrats for votes.

“The Freedom Caucus and his own members are loath to do the defense and the domestic spending caps, so we’re expending them to hold in that position,” Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairwoman Michelle Lujan Grisham said.

Watch: Why Does Congress ‘Retreat?’

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That scenario would provide House Democrats leverage to negotiate with Ryan for floor time on an immigration bill that protects so-called dreamers, young undocumented immigration facing a deportation threat with the end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, the New Mexico Democrat said.

“So this week there’s significant effort at getting the House leadership to commit in the same way Senate leadership has,” she said of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s commitment to hold an open floor debate on immigration next week if the government remains open.

“And there are several bipartisan, bicameral solutions,” Lujan Grisham added, noting the hard part is figuring out how the 50 or more moderate House Republicans who have pushed their leadership to expeditiously address the DACA issue will react.

“So we’re making so that those communications are happening this week,” she said.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has made clear she’s looking for a global deal surrounding four pillars: “parity, pay-fors, DACA, border.” She has said the first two, related to the budget caps are “weighted heavily.”

Ryan on Tuesday reminded reporters of his view that immigration is what’s holding up the budget caps deal.

“The only reason we do not have a full budget agreement is because Democrats continue to hold funding for our government hostage on an unrelated issue,” the Wisconsin Republican said. “They must stop using our troops as pawns in a game of politics.”

Ryan also reiterated that he would not bring an immigration bill to the House floor unless it has President Donald Trump’s support. The president has dismissed bills House Democrats prefer.

Lujan Grisham said it’s not clear if House Democrats could support the budget cap portion of a deal without a DACA deal.

“We’ve been working diligently to govern and to give us the domestic funding numbers along with defense,” she said. “But we’ve also made it clear there’s other things they have to do and that includes dreamers.”

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