House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi staged a marathon, daylong filibuster in an attempt to force a House vote on protections for the “Dreamer” immigrants and to prove to an increasingly angry wing of progressives and activists that she has done all she could.
Wearing four-inch heels and forgoing any breaks, Pelosi read touching and personal letters from the young immigrants whose temporary protection from deportation is set to expire next month. The performance had no immediate impact on Republican leaders who have not agreed to a vote.
But it was also aimed at the liberal wing of Pelosi’s own party, who seethed Wednesday as Democrats in the Senate cut a budget deal that could quickly steal the momentum behind the effort to resolve the Dreamers’ plight.
“You see, these people are being deported,” Pelosi said around hour six of her speech. “We can do something today to at least make whole the children.”
While she spoke, immigration activists joined liberals threatening political retribution against the congressional Democrats who abandoned the strategy of demanding that a budget deal be paired with an immigration deal.
The fresh threats exposed deepening divisions within a Democratic Party struggling to address a liberal priority in Republican-controlled Washington.
“I’m not a loyal Democrat,” Linda Sarsour, a political activist who co-chaired the 2017 Women’s March, declared during a fiery rally near Capitol Hill. “We will be joining primaries this year and we will primary Democrats who did not have the spine or the courage to stand up for our undocumented family.”
The activists who filled a Washington church Wednesday, like liberal leaders nationwide, called out Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer by name. Some scoffed at Pelosi’s speech, intended to elicit a promise from House Speaker Paul Ryan to allow a vote on subsequent legislation to protect the younger immigration. Ryan’s promise, activists noted, was far from a guarantee.
“What are they thinking? They’re giving up their leverage,” said a frustrated Angel Padilla, policy director for the liberal group Indivisible. “All of these votes will matter come November.”
Seven hours into Pelosi’s speech, the clearest signs of weariness were an occasional quiver in her voice, a stumble over her words and a case of the sniffles. At one point she interrupted herself to read a note from the House historian alerting her that she delivered the longest continuous speech since 1909.
At issue is the fate of roughly 1.8 million immigrants brought to the country as children and living here illegally. Many of the so-called “dreamers” could lose protection from deportation granted by the Obama administration in 2014 and rescinded by Trump last fall in the coming weeks.