WASHINGTON (AP) — House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi staged a
record-breaking, eight-hour speech in hopes of pressuring
Republicans to allow a vote on protecting “Dreamer” immigrants —
and to demonstrate to increasingly angry progressives and
Democratic activists that she has done all she could.
Wearing four-inch heels and forgoing any breaks, Pelosi, 77,
spent much of the rare talkathon Wednesday reading personal
letters from the young immigrants whose temporary protection from
deportation is set to expire next month. The California Democrat
quoted from the Bible and Pope Francis, as Democrats took turns
sitting behind her in support. The Office of the House Historian
said it was the longest continuous speech in the chamber on
“You see, these people are being deported,” Pelosi said around
hour six. “We can do something today to at least make whole the
Her remarks seemed partly aimed at the liberal wing of Pelosi’s
own party, who seethed as Senate Democrats cut a budget deal with
Republicans that could quickly steal the momentum behind the
effort to resolve the Dreamers’ plight.
The wide-ranging budget accord says nothing about renewing the
Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, called
DACA, which temporarily shields Dreamers — hundreds of thousands
of immigrants brought to the country as children and living here
illegally — from deportation. President Donald Trump has moved to
Pelosi said she’d oppose the budget deal unless GOP leaders
agreed to hold a House vote on helping the Dreamers. But top
Democrats said they weren’t corralling rank-and-file lawmakers to
oppose the budget pact, leading some of the party’s immigration
advocates to question the forcefulness of her opposition.
“I’m going to take everything she says at face value,” said Rep.
Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill. “And then hopefully tomorrow she will
validate that trust by stopping us from voting for it. If she
doesn’t, then it was a nice speech.”
Pelosi’s performance had no immediate impact on Republican
leaders, who have not scheduled a vote on the issue. AshLee
Strong, spokeswoman for House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said
Ryan “has already repeatedly stated we intend to do a DACA and
immigration reform bill — one that the president supports.”
While Pelosi spoke, immigration activists rallied in Washington
and threatened retribution against the congressional Democrats
who abandoned the strategy of demanding that a budget accord 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 for failing to attach immigration
legislation to a must-pass bill like the budget deal.
“What are they thinking? They’re giving up their leverage,” said
a frustrated Angel Padilla, policy director for the liberal group
Pelosi started speaking around 10 a.m. and yielded the floor at
6:11 p.m. By the end, there was a quiver in her voice, a stumble
over some words and a case of sniffles.
At one point she interrupted herself to read a note from the
House historian alerting her that she had delivered the chamber’s
longest continuous speech, besting Rep. Champ Clark’s five-hour,
15-minute stem-winder about tariff reform in 1909. In the Senate,
where unthinkably long orations are more common, South Carolina
Sen. Strom Thurmond spoke against the Civil Rights Act of 1957
for a record 24 hours and 18 minutes.
When Pelosi finished, around 50 Democrats responded with a
standing ovation, high-fives, hugs and kisses. The Republican
side of the chamber was virtually empty.
“We achieved the recognition of what the Dreamers mean to
America,” she told reporters afterward. “They are a reflection of
all the immigrants that have come before.”
The federal government will shutter non-essential operations
Thursday at midnight unless Congress passes a spending plan.
It’s unclear whether the liberal outrage will sink the two-year,
nearly $400 budget deal unveiled Wednesday that would provide
Pentagon and domestic programs with huge spending increases.
Schumer, D-N.Y., praised the agreement for providing needed
funding for health, drug abuse and social service programs,
having dropped his push to use the budget talks to extract
concessions on immigration.
Rep. Nanette Barragan, D-Calif., a member of the Congressional
Hispanic Caucus, said the Latino community thinks Senate
Democratic leadership “has turned their back on them.”
Hispanic caucus members and other Democrats made clear to Pelosi
earlier Wednesday that “we would not support a budget caps deal
unless we had some clarity about what would happen to Dreamers,”
said Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz. They insisted, he added, on DACA
language in the budget deal or some guarantee the issue would be
Yet numerous House Democrats said they weren’t being pushed by
Pelosi’s leadership team to oppose the Senate deal without a DACA
fix, and some of Pelosi’s top lieutenants said no such effort was
underway. Asked if she was “whipping” Democrats to oppose the
budget measure, Pelosi told reporters, “I’ve just been on the
floor all day.”
The lack of a unified Democratic strategy infuriated liberal
“This is a moral fight that Democratic leadership is failing on.
That’s something that’s going to have long-term implications,”
said Murshed Zaheed, political director for the progressive group
Should Pelosi fail to unify House Democrats against the deal, he
added, “it’s going to be another strike against her effectiveness
as leader of the caucus.”
“There will be a reckoning,” said Ben Wikler, Washington director
for the liberal group MoveOn.
Peoples reported from New York. Associated Press writers Luis
Alonso Lugo and Kevin Freking contributed to this report.