By Ed O’Keefe, David Weigel and Paul Kane / The Washington Post
WASHINGTON — House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi took the rare step Wednesday of launching a marathon speech supporting attempts by Democrats to legalize the status of young immigrant “dreamers,” in a bid to pressure Republicans to act.
Pelosi, D-Calif., began speaking shortly after 10 a.m., using her right as minority leader to speak for as long as she wants. She began by saying that she would lead opposition to a broad two-year budget agreement that includes several Democratic priorities but does not address immigration — the topic that has prolonged the spending debate for several months.
“I have no intention of yielding back,” Pelosi said at 3:41 p.m. Eastern as she neared the six-hour mark of her ongoing remarks.
The hope is that Pelosi and Democrats — whose support is often needed to pass spending bills in the face of opposition from fiscal conservatives — can pressure House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., to hold votes on immigration legislation, as the Senate is poised to begin doing next week.
“Why should we in the House be treated in such a humiliating way when the Republican Senate leader has given that opportunity in a bipartisan way to his membership? What’s wrong? There’s something wrong with this picture,” Pelosi said.
Pelosi, 77, peppered her speech with anecdotes about people protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Program and mentioned the biblical tale of the Good Samaritan.
The DACA program is set to expire on March 5 — a deadline President Donald Trump set in September that has sparked months of debate over how to allow dreamers to stay in the country and make other changes to immigration policy and border security programs that Trump and Republicans want.
Pelosi continued to speak well after Senate leaders announced an agreement that would add about $400 billion in federal spending over the next two years, delivering the military funding boost demanded by Trump alongside the increase in domestic programs sought by Democrats.
The plan could break a months-long partisan stalemate centered on federal spending, but potential roadblocks and threats like the one Pelosi leveled Wednesday could drag out the disagreements.
At the White House, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the administration supports the Senate budget deal and does not agree with Pelosi’s request to include immigration issues as part of the agreement.
“We’ve made clear that the budget deal should be a budget deal and that members of Congress like Nancy Pelosi should not hold the government hostage over a separate issue,” Sanders said.
Pelosi decided to give her remarks late Tuesday night and gave a heads up to Schumer, aides said.
At 3:04 p.m., exactly five hours after she began talking, Pelosi remained standing in what aides said are four-inch heels. She had taken just a few sips of water and had unwrapped a mint left by Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, D-N.Y., but she had yet to eat it.
At least six floor aides and 18 Democratic lawmakers sat around her, including Reps. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., and Jamie Raskin, D-Md. But most sat skimming their phones or reading documents. One aide kept slipping her fresh pages with more stories to tell about dreamers affected by the ongoing impasse.
On the other side of the chamber sat only Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, and two aides, seemingly waiting to seize the floor and begin debate on a home mortgage bill scheduled to be voted on later Wednesday.
Pelosi’s decision to hold the House floor comes as Democrats have canceled a plan three-day retreat at a resort on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and will gather instead on Capitol Hill to hear from party luminaries, including former Vice President Joe Biden, former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and former Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.
Democrats opted to stay in Washington so that they could vote on the spending legislation and not be blamed for leaving town on the verge of a Friday morning partial government shutdown.
Pelosi’s speech, broadcast nationally in part by cable news channels, comes as she is set to spend the rest of the week huddling with colleagues over how to prepare for this year’s congressional elections. Democrats need to net at least 24 seats to take control of the House, and nonpartisan forecasters and recent fundraising reports show that they are set to exceed those figures.
But recent polls show growing optimism among voters about a tax-cut bill that recently passed. A new Quinnipiac University poll, released Wednesday, found support for the tax cuts rising from 32 percent in January to 39 percent today, while Trump’s approval had climbed from 36 to 40 percent.
Historically, approval ratings that low have led to electoral disaster; in 2006, GDP growth of 2.7 percent was not enough to save Republican control of Congress. But some Democrats now argue that the party should define and sell its own tax plan in a way that can win voters who are already optimistic about the economy.
“We’ve got to get onto an economic message that’s going to resonate across the board, whether you’re in western Pennsylvania or you’re an immigrant family or you’re in an African-American family in the city,” said Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, who challenged Pelosi for her leadership position in late 2016.
Ryan said that Democrats should acknowledge that “some people are going to get a little bump (from the Trump tax cut)” but that under a Democratic plan, “they’d be getting hundreds and hundreds more than under the Republican plan, and we would have been able to pay for it, by asking the wealthy and corporations to pay more.”
At a news conference kicking off the retreat, Rep. Joe Crowley, D-N.Y., said that Democrats would tell voters that Republicans gave “the wealthiest corporations in the history of the world” permanent tax cuts, and gave middle- and working-class taxpayers “uncertainty.” But the party would not run on repealing the entire tax package, arguing instead that Democrats would bring “balance” to tax policy.
“We think the American people understand that the governance of our nation is out of whack, it’s out of balance,” said Crowley. “Republicans control everything, and they’ve given too much authority to this president. The American people want balance, and I think that’s why we’ll be successful in the fall elections.”
Most of the caucus’ closed-door meetings focus on current issues — the ongoing Russia investigations; the Justice Department’s attempts to curb state marijuana legalization laws; how Democrats can push back against the GOP-sponsored tax reform plan; and how to use social media to promote legislation and political priorities, according to an internal planning document obtained by The Washington Post.
Holder and McAuliffe are poised to speak about a national initiative on legislative redistricting that is supported in part by former President Barack Obama.
Preet Bharara, the former top federal prosecutor in Manhattan, is set to address Democrats Wednesday night in a keynote address entitled, “Defending Integrity and Fighting for Justice.” Bharara is a frequent Trump critic, often using Twitter and his own weekly podcast to level his broadsides.