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Did Senate Democrats Help Or Hurt Themselves During The Shutdown?

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Well, the federal government is back open today after a three-day shutdown. This happened because enough Democrats in the Senate got on board with a Republican plan to fund the government for three more weeks. Democrats had been saying they would not budge without a permanent solution for DACA. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program protects many Americans who were in the country illegally as children. A good number of Democrats, though not all, were willing to accept a promise from Republican leaders that they're serious about taking up DACA in the coming weeks. Mo Elleithee joins us in our studios in Washington. He's a veteran Democratic strategist. He's now executive director of Georgetown University's Institute of Politics and Public Service. Hi there, Mo.

MO ELLEITHEE: Hey, David.

GREENE: So what did Democrats actually get here?

ELLEITHEE: Look, I think they got from Leader McConnell the most firm commitment to date so far that the Senate would take up DACA. Now, there are a lot of people out there, a lot of Democrats out there that say, that ain't good enough, the leader's promises aren't something to be trusted. But you kind of get the sense that this is the most firm commitment that he's made to date, and now there's a deadline. And if he doesn't bring it up by that deadline then I think you're going to see all hell break loose with the Democrats going after the Republicans.

GREENE: But I just want to be really clear. Weren't Republicans already essentially promising that they would work out DACA? So was it worth shutting down the government to get - what? I mean, a more reassuring promise?

ELLEITHEE: Well, you know, there was a promise to do something, but without a date certain, without a timeframe for doing so. The silver lining for Democrats in this, I think, is that they got that. Now, look, I think there are a couple of major takeaways from this experience in the past few days. Number one, the politics of shutdowns are never clear cut, even when the polling shows one party may get the blame. I remember back during the shutdown of 2013 when everyone said Republicans were going to get the blame, and the next year, they came back and won a historic route in the midterms.

So the politics of this is never as clear cut as it looks when it's going on. Number two, you do now have this date and this commitment from McConnell to get something done, and now the pressure is on him to deliver. People want to see DACA dealt with. They want to see these dreamers taken care of. If he doesn't deliver after a shutdown, after making this promise to end a shutdown then there's going to be significant pressure on him. Number three, the partisans on either side are not happy right now. You saw that...

GREENE: Yeah. You had a lot of Democrats voting against this.

ELLEITHEE: Yeah.

GREENE: I mean, Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris.

ELLEITHEE: And you've got a lot of Republicans, particularly in the House, who are not happy that Leader McConnell made a commitment to deal with DACA.

GREENE: But focusing on your party, I mean, isn't that a problem? Isn't that a rift at a moment when you really want to be showing a united front?

ELLEITHEE: Ask me again in three weeks. Right? Ask me again when, if they haven't dealt with DACA, and you see us barreling towards another shutdown then I think this rift could become something.

GREENE: So Democrats have to hold on and not - I mean, just shut down the government indefinitely if they're not happy with...

ELLEITHEE: Well, Democrats have a choice right now. They can either squabble over this deal yesterday, or they can coalesce and use the next three weeks, use this as a rallying cry to push even harder to see some sort of action on DACA.

GREENE: That's what you think has to happen now?

ELLEITHEE: I think that what's got to happen now. But as we've seen in politics over the past year, everything is volatile and we don't know what the next three weeks are going to look like. But I would argue Democrats, if they really want to get something done on DACA, they actually now have one of the greatest opportunities they've had since this whole debate began, since the president pulled the rug out from under this program. They now got McConnell to lay down a marker as to when this was going to get done. They need to hold him accountable to that.

GREENE: All right. Speaking about this moment - the government shutdown is over and where Democrats go from here - with Mo Elleithee. He's executive director of the Institute of Politics and Public Service at Georgetown, also a longtime Democratic strategist. Mo, thanks, as always.

ELLEITHEE: Thanks, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.