No state faces higher stakes in the government shutdown showdown than Texas, where both DACA and border security could have a huge impact on the state’s political future.
Texas has the nation’s second largest population of DACA recipients, about 120,000, including 7,700 who live in Tarrant County. The state is home to a burgeoning Latino population that cares deeply about the issue, and their votes will have a growing impact on elections now and in years to come.
At the same time, border security is a top issue for Texas Republicans. Their enthusiasm —and turnout — in the 2018 midterms will play a big role in determining whether Republicans hold the four House and one Senate seat that Democrats are targeting.
Sen. John Cornyn R-Texas, is GOP leadership’s chief negotiator on a deal to keep the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program alive in some form. Cornyn’s seat is up in 2020.
The state’s most vulnerable House Republican, Rep. Will Hurd, represents a district with 820 miles of the 2,000-mile U.S. border with Mexico. In Texas’s marquee statewide race, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is still living down the aftershock of his role in 16-day 2013 shutdown aimed at defunding the Affordable Care Act.
“I saw what happened in 2013 with Ted Cruz, who led the government shutdown. It was terrible for El Paso, really bad for Texas and cost this country billions of dollars,” said Rep Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas, who is challenging Cruz in 2018. “There’s just no good that comes out of doing that.” O’Rourke’s El Paso congressional district also includes part of Texas’s border with Mexico.
At the moment, Washington is stuck.
Democrats are threatening to withhold their votes for a must-pass government funding bill that doesn’t include protections for the more than 800,000 DACA recipients. Republicans will need their help to reach the 60-vote threshold in the Senate, where they only control 51 seats. The government faces a partial shutdown unless Congress and the White House can agree on a budget by Friday night.
President Donald Trump says he won’t sign a bill addressing DACA unless it meets his standards for increased border security, including funding for his proposed wall on the border with Mexico. Leaders from both parties say Trump still hasn’t told them what he’s willing to accept.
Texas lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are at the center of the Capitol Hill drama.
Cornyn, who touts his good relations with Latinos in his home state, could hold the power for his party’s position on both DACA and border security. He bested his Democratic opponent’s performance with Hispanic voters in his 2014 re-election race, and has been a vocal proponent of finding a “compassionate” DACA solution, negotiating behind closed doors to reach a deal with Democrats.
But as GOP whip, Cornyn is also responsible for making sure whatever plan is reached can attract enough votes from his own party to pass. He leads a caucus with widely differing views on immigration, and has been a part of many failed negotiations in the past.
“We all want to get to a solution here,” Cornyn told reporters, listing border security, ending the diversity visa lottery program and finding a solution for family-based migration, among the challenges lawmakers must address in a DACA solution.
“None of these are easy, but we’re all highly motivated by the fact that come March 5, this program will no longer be available, and all the work permits ... will go away,” he added.
Trump announced plans to end the program unless Congress comes up with a solution to protect the recipients from deportation.
Cornyn introduced his own border security plan in August, crafted with Department of Homeland Security officials, that he hoped could be paired with a DACA solution. It calls for a wall in some places along the border, while using technology to avoid an unpopular barrier in places where it’s less practical.
Democrats in Texas also have plenty at stake.
Aside from Cruz’s Senate seat, they want to flip four congressional districts in 2018, including those held by Reps. Pete Sessions, John Culberson, Hurd, and the seat currently occupied by retiring Rep. Lamar Smith. Enthusiastic Latino turnout is crucial to that mission.
“Most people don’t want to see a shutdown,” said Rep. Joaquin Castro, who insisted Republicans were solely responsible for funding the government.
But Castro, along with other House Democrats, have made clear they want DACA to be a part of any spending plan. Party strategists say failure to stay united on that could hurt Democrats’ ability to court minorities in future elections.
“I can’t support a spending bill that leaves the DACA kids behind again. That’s already happened multiple times now,” Castro said.
Republicans face a similar enthusiasm problem on border security. Without it, they fear GOP voters could stay home in 2018 — but refusing to act on DACA without it could hurt some of those vulnerable incumbents.
Hurd, whose district has switched control five times in the last decade, represents a district that’s nearly 70 percent Hispanic. He’s seeking help from colleagues in both parties for a DACA and border security solution that would help navigate a border wall that some Republicans in his district dislike.
“I have more border than any other member of Congress,” Hurd said this week. “We should be able to know what’s coming back and forth across our border; the only way we’re going to do that is by more technology and a thoughtful approach.”
Texas Democrats say that while securing the border is important, voters will punish Republicans if they try to build Trump’s wall through the middle of border communities.
“Having just last week been in Laredo and McAllen and San Benito and Weslaco and Mission, at every one of these town halls I held, that was the No. 1 issue, people don’t want the wall,” said O’Rourke. “A wall is deeply unpopular in Texas, and it’s really time for some Texas leadership on an alternative.”