Hispanic Democrats on Tuesday had a combination venting and strategy session with Democratic congressional leaders as they expressed frustration that there still has not been a resolution for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer got an earful about the handling of the recent government shutdown and recent comments about future strategy, members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus said.
"I think there's a lot of conversations about, where is our leverage and how are we going to use it?" said California Democrat Rep. Nanette Diaz Barrag-n.
Barrag-n said she specifically raised comments Schumer made in The Washington Post that "can't just let (DACA) occupy the whole stage," referring to Democratic strategy in red states. She said she told Schumer her community felt that sent a message they weren't a priority.
"He stood by his comment," Barrag-n said of his response. Generally, she added, "He said, 'I can understand the pain people are feeling and the frustration' and certainly understood why people felt disappointed in where we are today. Although I think the message is, 'We're better off than we were.' So I'm not sure there's complete agreement on all fronts."
The "tension," as Barrag-n put it, was indicative of raw nerves among the Democratic caucus about whether leadership is fully committed to using all points of leverage to push for a solution on DACA, the program being ended by President Donald Trump that protected young undocumented immigrants from deportation.
One source in the room speaking anonymously to be candid called the meeting a "waste of time" that was "all filler."
Another called it equal parts frustration and cheerleading, with an understanding that Republicans remain the main obstacle to deal with.
House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer called the meeting "candid," saying the caucus is "correctly frustrated" about the situation for recipients of DACA.
"I think there were obviously some sentiments in the meeting, as you well know, that were, 'I'm not sure we're following the right strategy here,'" Hoyer told reporters after the meeting. "There was a candid discussion about why the strategy was being pursued and what was being pursued and what opportunities and challenges were, I think people came out with some degree of appreciation."
Multiple lawmakers said there was frustration as Democrats rejected government funding on a Friday but voted to reopen the government on Monday when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell promised to open debate on immigration on the Senate floor in February.
Barrag-n noted there is no commitment to an immigration vote in the House.
"It's very frustrating on the House side because it appears there's a different situation in the House than in the Senate, we haven't gotten any kind of commitment on the House side," Barrag-n said. "And so even though on the Senate side, Sen. Schumer talks about how they have that commitment and he believes they're going to get a vote, I think it still fails to take into consideration that strategy on the House side."
Rep. Luis Gutierrez, an Illinois Democrat who has long served as a voice for immigration advocates in the House, said many in the room "were disappointed" in a "lack of communication" regarding the shutdown. But he also said the focus was on moving forward.
"Democrats, we're good at fighting and I also think we're good at mending fences, and that's what we're doing here," Gutierrez told reporters. "We're trying to figure out a way forward. ... I think (Dem leaders) are committed and this isn't over. Look, trip, you get up and you go back to fight, but we have a clear determination, we're going to fight for the Dreamers."
The chairwoman of the Hispanic Caucus, Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, called the session a combination of strategy and "venting, productively."
"I didn't see it as being negative," she said. "It was an important place to come back after a week for folks to talk about their frustrations, to talk about what they think we haven't done well, to talk about things that we think are working and to talk about all eyes on the House. What is the House going to do, how are we going to get them to do it and where are we?"
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