© 2021 WOSU Public Media
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
News Partners

Senate's 2-Year Budget Deal Doesn't Address Fate Of DREAMers


So this is what bipartisanship sounds like.


MITCH MCCONNELL: No one would suggest it is perfect, but we worked hard to find common ground and stay focused on serving the American people.

GREENE: That was Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell talking about a budget deal struck in the Senate yesterday. This is Democratic leader Chuck Schumer.


CHUCK SCHUMER: Budget deal doesn't have everything Democrats want. It doesn't have everything Republicans want. But it has a great deal of what the American people want.

GREENE: OK, so there was a deadline looming tonight to avoid another government shutdown. This bill, if passed, would fund the government for two years. But the deal does not address the future of immigrants covered under DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, and that could make things complicated in the House. Senator Tim Kaine, Democrat of Virginia, supported the deal, and he joins us this morning.

Senator, welcome back to the program.

TIM KAINE: Hey, David, good to be on with you today.

GREENE: So what led to this moment of bipartisanship?

KAINE: Well, it - you know, it really started - I was part of a group of about 25 senators that helped to engineer getting out of the shutdown, funding the CHIP program. And when we did that, we basically set two tasks before us - find this multiyear budget deal that - and quit governing by the short-term continuing resolution - something long-term that would fund defense and nondefense priorities. And that was one priority. And I've been a little bit involved in that negotiation, especially on the defense side as a member of the Armed Services Committee.

But the second issue is the one I've been more involved with the last couple weeks, which is a bipartisan effort to put the issue of DREAMers on the floor of the Senate for the first time in five years, and have a debate and find a path forward that will permanently protect them. And that's the second half of what we're doing, and as soon as we...

GREENE: You say the second half, but that was not in this deal that you struck, and that has some of your colleagues in the House not very happy. I mean, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi spent hours on the floor of the House yesterday reading the stories of people brought to the U.S. illegally as children. I just want to listen to a little bit.


NANCY PELOSI: Jesus Contreras - Jesus was only 6 years old when he was brought to United States from Mexico by his mother, who sought safety from violence. He grew up in Houston. After graduating from high school as a top student, Jesus obtained DACA. This enables him to pursue his dream of becoming a paramedic.

GREENE: So I think the point Pelosi is making, Senator, is that you did not include immigration in this deal, and they're not necessarily buying a guarantee that it's going to come up in a future debate. So what do you tell them if they feel abandoned right now?

KAINE: David, that was a powerful speech, and I've made many speeches on the floor of the Senate doing exactly the same thing. There's 13,000 DREAMers in Virginia - very close to many of them, and their stories are so powerful. Look, there aren't guarantees in political life. What we know is there hasn't been a debate on the floor of the Senate for five years on immigration. The last one really wasn't about DREAMers. The DREAMer issue was a part of it, but it wasn't the main focus.

We're going to go into a debate in the Senate on the very next issue - is going to be DREAMers. Where - there's going to be a bill that's going to be put on the floor. There's a 60-vote threshold here, and we have been working in a bipartisan group to come up with a permanent protection for DREAMers, including a path to citizenship, that we feel pretty good that we're going to be able to get a vote on and pass in the Senate with significant bipartisan support.

GREENE: What do you tell...

KAINE: There's no substitute for putting it on the floor and doing it, but the DREAMers haven't had a day in the Senate for five years, and they're going to get their day.

GREENE: What do you tell House Democrats who say you may have a guarantee from Mitch McConnell that there will be a debate and a vote on immigration? They have no such guarantee from the speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, so you might have passed up a moment of leverage here for them.

KAINE: They've got to keep working on it, and we got to keep working. And, you know, the leverage issue - I understand their argument, but it was really, really important for people who are on Social Security disability, and our troops, and families who depend on special education services and everybody who depends on a functioning federal government to go ahead and find this budget deal going forward that's good for the country and certainly good for Virginia. But the DREAMer issue's really important. And I'm glad that the speaker - leader Pelosi was on the floor asking the speaker to give them that commitment.

Here's what I feel. If we pass a bill in the Senate with the deadline coming up, it will be impossible for the House to ignore it. It will be impossible, especially when President Trump has been saying, we need to make a deal to permanently protect DREAMers. President Trump had said DREAMers should have a path to permanent citizenship. And so I think if we pass that bill in the Senate in a bipartisan way, and that's what I've been working with my colleagues to come up with, the House - it will be impossible for the House to ignore it.

GREENE: I just want to switch topics, Senator, before I let you go - that there's a bipartisan push right now in the Senate to help military spouses. You have a bill to help them find jobs. I was struck to see the military spouse unemployment rate hit 30 percent in 2017. Why is it so high?

KAINE: Military spouses have all kinds of challenges. But usually, it's because they move frequently. They come into new communities, takes them a while to get settled, and often, when they're applying for jobs, an employer will say, wait, how long you going to be here? You're married to somebody in the military. Oh, I'm going to hire somebody else who does not need to move to sacrifice for their country. Sometimes military spouses also move, and they have a credential. Like, they're a licensed teacher in one state. When they move to another state, the credential doesn't automatically and immediately follow. So I've introduced a bill two days ago - Military Spouse Employment Act of 2018 - to tackle this problem by doing four basic things to help military spouses.

GREENE: All right, Democratic Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia joining us this morning. Senator, thanks a lot.

KAINE: Yeah, David, glad to. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.