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Froma Harrop: A shutdown not to remember

Froma Harrop

By Groundhog Day, the government shutdown will have been largely forgotten. That’s a guarantee.

As memory of that long weekend fades, the matter of whether Democrats won, lost or tied in the deal to reopen the federal government will be of little consequence — at least to those of us who have lives.

But the shutdown did highlight three realities for Democrats going forward.

Reality No. 1: It’s not quite true that Republicans control both houses of Congress.

Republicans do have considerable power in the House, where they can pass legislation without any Democratic votes. But they don’t have a filibuster-proof 60-seat majority in the Senate, needed to pass legislation without Democratic support in that chamber.

The truth is Democrats did have the power to shut down the government. Also acknowledge that a handful of Republicans who bucked their party’s leadership helped them.

Reality No. 2: Obtaining legal status for the so-called dreamers — immigrants brought to this country illegally as children — is a good cause. Closing the government over them is bad politics. That the dreamers were not threatened with imminent deportation made this hardball seem less warranted.

The reality is that once Republicans agreed to fund the popular Children’s Health Insurance Program for six years, there was less urgent need to take the radical step of a shutdown. Yes, it’s hard to find a more sympathetic group — young people who are, for all intents and purposes, American. Yes, they’ve been cruelly tossed about by Donald Trump’s mood swings.

But Democrats ended up with a tough rationale for closing the government — that is, protecting people at no immediate risk of being sent away. That’s why Democrats were wise to pack it in.

Reality No. 3: The activist left isn’t totally on board for winning elections. Its more vocal spokespeople exploded at Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer for ending the shutdown without a definitive dreamer fix. They get to keep their jobs whether Democrats get elected or not. And if militant fist-waving unsettles large parts of the electorate, not their problem.

Some on the hard left argue that if the party leaders were more like them, Democrats would be winning big. The reality is radical-left candidates rarely win elections. They usually don’t even win Democratic primaries.

By the way, the spokespeople don’t own the women who recently marched in great numbers. The women were united in expressing opposition to Trump and congressional Republicans. In terms of issues, that covers a lot of territory. These women are indeed a massive political force, and the bigger their tent the stronger they’ll be.

(There’s no little irony that presidential prospects courting the Bernie Sanders base have made the shutdown a key issue. Sanders himself is quite direct on the need to protect American workers from poorly controlled immigration. Sanders’ ditching of the identity agenda for the labor agenda helps explain why many working-class Trump voters had previously supported him in the Democratic primaries.)

Splice all three realities into one feature-length picture and you can see the Democrats’ challenge. To gain real power, they have to retain or capture Democratic seats in Missouri, North Dakota, Indiana and other states with electorates highly wary of illegal immigration.

“Our major issues,” said former Sen. Byron Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat, “are jobs, Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP, Social Security, infrastructure, supporting domestic programs, clean air, safe drinking water.”

The shutdown did produce one significant success. It helped solidify a group of moderate Democrats and Republicans who now vow to buck their all-politics-all-the-time leadership and work to solve problems. That’s good news for everyone, dreamers included.

As for who blinked in the game of shutdown chicken, forget about it — if you already haven’t.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. 

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