by a Virginia Democrat who was at the event last night…
The Arlington Young Democrats hosted Senator Tim Kaine tonight for their regular Happy Hour, in the upstairs bar of La Tasca in Clarendon. Before the AYD President, Tania Bougebrayel, could even get through introducing Senator Kaine, she was interrupted by a large crowd of protesters, shouting in chorus. They were supporters of the DREAM Act, angry at Senator Kaine’s recent statement that he would not shut down the government over the DREAM Act.
They yelled that Kaine had taken and used their stories, and used their friends as political “props,” that his actions didn’t match his words. These were passionate people, their voices angry and desperate, their eyes filling up repeatedly with tears. And while I totally understand their desperation and frustration (my grandparents fled their homelands to America, and my ex-husband fled a Middle Eastern country and came to America on a student visa)–as did Kaine, I think–they could have picked a more effective target.
I say this because Sen. Kaine has always been a strong advocate for immigration reform and immigrant rights. As head of the DNC, Kaine spoke out against Arizona’s SB 1070, arguing that it “ tramples on Americans’ basic notions of justice and legitimizes prejudice.” In 2013, he gave a 13-minute speech on the Senate floor in fluent Spanish (the first time in history) on the need for immigration reform. He has also supported and voted for the DREAM Act, and has repeatedly spoken out in support of DACA and DAPA.
Kaine waited patiently, if uncomfortably, for the crowd to stop chanting and yelling, and then spoke. He clearly had wanted to use the opportunity to talk about the horrendous GOP tax reform bill passed by Congress today. But after just barely touching on that, he tried to address the protesters’ concerns. He reiterated his support for DREAMers and for immigration reform. He said that the only good thing to come from Trump’s sudden and callous termination of the DREAMers program is that Congress is forced to come up with a permanent, legislated solution to immigration.
And while the protesters clearly want that solution today–many of them screaming out the numbers being deported already every day–the only way that can happen is for the Democrats to play hardball and threaten not to pass the next continuing resolution to keep the government open (the current continuing resolution expires on Friday). Kaine explained that while he will take every other step possible to fight for the DREAM Act, voting to shut down the government is the one thing he is unwilling to do. This is a lose-lose situation really–because although every day without a clean DREAM Act brings deportations and heartache, shutting down the government comes with grave and serious costs as well. Workers don’t get paid, Social Security and Medicare checks don’t go out, the military may not get paid and current military operations may be in jeopardy. And, of course, the last shutdown cost about $24 billion.
Additionally, Republican and Democrat leaders are working on a comprehensive bipartisan, bicameral immigration reform bill right now. What happens to those negotiations if Democrats play hardball this week? Does a shutdown bring an urgency to the negotiations that they don’t already have? Or does it break the good faith in which those negotiations are taking place? I don’t claim to know, but it’s conceivable that a Democratic Senator who has been fighting for immigrants most of his career might know and might have the political smarts to figure out the best way to get that DREAM Act passed.
Everyone has a right to protest–I’ve done my share of it myself. And we should all be holding our own elected officials accountable, even when they’re from our own party. But if we go after the ones who are fighting for us, where does that leave us? If we turn our allies into our villains, who’s left to fight for us?