Bill Nelson votes to reopen the federal government without an immigration deal

Senator Bill Nelson was under pressure after voting to reopen the federal government on Monday, three days after he voted to shut it down.

Gov. Rick Scott, his likely 2018 opponent, said Nelson’s vote to shut down the government “didn’t make any sense.”

Some Democrats weren’t happy either, arguing that moderates like Nelson surrendered to Republicans and reopened the government without a deal to protect nearly 800,000 undocumented young immigrants known as Dreamers from deportation.

But Nelson was unfazed.

After negotiating a deal to reopen the federal government for three weeks, Nelson was unable to contain a wide smile while explaining that a deal he helped broker was the best possible compromise to get federal employees back to work while getting Republicans to commit to a vote on the status of Dreamers.

“Before this agreement they (Dreamers) had no assurance for protection and we were not getting any help from the White House, we weren't getting any help from the House and we really weren't getting any help from the Republican leadership in the Senate. But now we have a path forward in which we can work a bipartisan solution that will take care of the Dreamers,” Nelson said. “I think the American people are going to be cheering that this occurred.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell did not commit to a deal or compromise for Dreamers on Monday, something that many Democrats previously said was a condition for reopening the government after it shut down on Friday night, though he did commit to debate and vote on the issue.

“So long as the government remains open it would be my intention to take up legislation here in the Senate that would address DACA, border security and related issues as well as disaster relief, defense funding, healthcare and other important matters,” McConnell said on the Senate floor.

McConnell’s compromise won over many Democrats like Nelson who previously voted no and the final vote tally on a proposal to reopen the government until Feb. 8 was 81-18, with the majority of Democrats joining the majority of Republicans. Most of the No votes came from the most liberal Democratic senators and a few senators who are weighing a 2020 presidential bid. The House of Representatives and President Donald Trump are expected to approve the plan.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer agreed to McConnell’s offer to reopen the government, but stressed that a solution for immigrants would be of paramount importance in the coming weeks. McConnell did not make any guarantees on passing a solution for Dreamers. He merely committed to debate and vote on the issue. Dreamers could face deportation in March if Congress fails to act, and any explicit compromise would likely face resistance from conservative Republicans in the House.

“The Republican majority now has 17 days to prevent the Dreamers from being deported,” Schumer said.

Senator Marco Rubio talks in Miami about the possibility of a government shutdown if an agreement on DACA is not reached.

Nelson gave a litany of reasons why continued short-term spending bills were bad for Florida, though he avoided explicitly criticizing Republicans and talking about Dreamers between Friday and Monday. In two late night Tweets, Nelson said he voted against the short-term spending bills because they put national security at risk and didn’t provide disaster relief funding for Florida.

But Nelson said the Dreamer issue was “obvious” and that he wanted to highlight other issues with short-term spending bills.

“I concocted that Tweet at 2 o’clock in the morning on Friday night and it was obvious what we were there for but I wanted to talk about some of the other things that were surrounding this whole issue,” Nelson said.

Nelson said he understands that some of his Democratic colleagues don’t trust McConnell to hold a vote on DACA before Feb. 8. New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, who voted against the proposal, said Monday that the deal to reopen the the government doesn’t give him any confidence that Congress won’t end up exactly where they are today.

“I understand their lack of trust because McConnell has not kept his word in the past but here's what's different, 30 Senators were part of this bipartisan solution,” Nelson said, adding there was an “ironclad commitment made in the full glare of the spotlight on the floor of the Senate” to find a DACA solution in the coming weeks.

Nelson was one of six Democrats up for reelection in 2018 in states won by Trump who voted against a short-term spending bill to keep the government open on Friday night. He remained undecided on his vote until the last minute, when he walked on to the Senate floor and gave a thumbs down.

The government shutdown on Friday occurred after McConnell received only 50 votes for a short-term spending bill. A spending bill in the Senate requires 60 votes, meaning McConnell needed the support of some Democrats to pass a bill.

Nelson, the only statewide elected Democrat from Florida, faced pressure from immigration activists to join the more liberal wing of his party to vote against a short-term spending bill without a solution for Dreamers.

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio voted in favor of the bill along with most Senate Republicans. He spent the past three days blaming Senate Democrats for voting to shut down the government.

Polls on the government shutdown showed mixed messages for Senate Democrats like Nelson on whether Republicans or Democrats were to blame.

But Nelson is confident that the end result will please everyone except a few conservative Republicans.

“At the end of the day we will have 60 votes on the DACA for the Dreamers, and I think it may be more than 60 votes, and that will put a lot of pressure on the House and put a lot of pressure on the president if the president is still not participating,” Nelson said.

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Alex Daugherty: 202-383-6049, @alextdaugherty