Michigan senators, most reps vote to reopen government

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Most Michigan lawmakers voted Monday to end the government shutdown after a verbal agreement on immigration legislation was made in the Senate.

Michigan Democratic Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters voted to end the government shutdown impasse Monday after Republican leadership pledged to soon take up immigration legislation.

The Senate approved a three-week stopgap spending bill that included reauthorizing the Children’s Health Insurance Program for six years by a vote of 81-18. The House approved the measure later Monday in a 266-150 vote.

“We have reached a bipartisan agreement that funds children’s health insurance and moves us closer to a solution that provides long-term certainty for Michigan families and our national defense,” Stabenow said in a statement.

President Donald Trump said in a statement he was “pleased that Democrats in Congress have come to their senses.”

He added that his administration would make a long-term deal on immigration “if, and only if, it is good for our country.”

Peters of Bloomfield Township rejected criticism of Senate Democrats’ deal with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. He said they had not caved but received a commitment to vote on some sort of immigration fix for a young group of illegal immigrants brought into the country as children by Feb. 8, when the stop-gap spending bill runs out.

Peters was part of a bipartisan group of 22 senators who crafted a compromise to end the three-day government shutdown. He said they were not turning their backs on the 700,000 young immigrants known as Dreamers.

“We’re not. We’ve got a commitment to have a vote on a bill in an open and fair process,” Peters said after the vote.

McConnell “made it very public before the American people on the floor of the U.S. Senate. It’s part of the official record. I take him at his word, and time will tell whether or not that will happen.”

But some Democrats and activists argued Monday that the comments of the Kentucky Republican fell short of the immigration guarantee they wanted, with Sen. Kamala Harris, D-California, saying it was “foolhardy” to believe McConnell’s commitment.

A liberal organization, CREDO Action, said, “Any plan to protect Dreamers that relies on the word of serial liars like Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan or Donald Trump is doomed to fail.”

Others expressed concern that any potential deal on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protects children of undocumented immigrants from deportation, is not guaranteed in the U.S. House.

Michigan’s four House Democratic members -- Sander Levin, Dan Kildee, Debbie Dingell and Brenda Lawrence -- said they opposed the stopgap funding measure because House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, hasn’t made a similar commitment on immigration and certain funding priorities.

“While Senator McConnell has now pledged Senate action, we need a commitment from Speaker Ryan in the House to work with Democrats on a long-term budget agreement as well as legislation to fix our broken immigration system and protect DREAMers,” the four said in a joint Monday statement.

But Peters said he can only deal with McConnell.

“What we can do is pass something in the Senate, but we don't control the House,” he told reporters. “If we have a bill that gets broad bipartisan support here in the Senate, that certainly sends a pretty strong signal to the House that this is something that can pass in a bipartisan way.”

Sen. Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican who was part of the bipartisan group with Peters, said the goal is to get an agreement on DACA before March 5. But Flake said he is concerned it wouldn’t be a permanent fix.

Trump canceled the program last year and gave lawmakers until early March to find a solution.

“The worst outcome would be to get to March 5 and then try to jam something through that would look like the legislative equivalent of DACA, where we make it constitutional but it’s no more certain for these kids,” Flake told reporters at the Capitol. “That’s not good.”

Peters said March 5 is a “pretty hard deadline for everybody” because of the serious disruptions it would cause for Dreamers.

“Folks who don't want to have a solution are going to have to answer to the 80 percent of the American people who think that this is the right thing to do, it is the moral thing to do, and I am sure with an election around the corner, folks may remember that,” Peters said.

He said his concern has not just been a solution for DACA but also dealing with a long-term budget framework, defense spending, pension crises and funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program and community health centers.

Peters said his meetings with the bipartisan group of 22 senators were “unique” among his three years in the Senate, describing the attitude as “can do” and “we can do it.”

“The meetings were some of the most productive I’ve been in – not just in my time here in the Senate but in the House – where it was open, it was frank. Folks are just trying to get to the practical, nuts-and-bolts solution of an issue and take out all the political rhetoric,” Peters said.

“We know this is not over. This is not the end. Just the beginning of what’s going to be an ongoing process.”


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