Floridians still don't have an answer to what might be the most pressing statewide political question of 2018: What does Bill Nelson stand for?
After Nelson voted yesterday to end the brief government shutdown without forcing Republicans to agree to protect undocumented immigrants, Floridians still don't know the answer to that question — and immigrant-rights activists, the sort of people who can bring Democrats and independents out to vote, are now pretty pissed at him.
The longtime U.S. senator from Florida is running for reelection in 2018 and will almost certainly face the strongest opponent of his career in Rick Scott, Florida's governor and part-time Japanese Shinigami death spirit. Recent polling shows most Floridians don't know who Nelson is despite his having served in D.C. since 1978. So far, he has spent this election cycle doing zero to make statewide Democrats and independents excited to vote for him, and yesterday didn't do anything to change anyone's mind.
In fact, local immigrant activists say they're furious with his vote to end the shutdown without concrete action to protect Dreamers, the millions of Americans brought to the States without papers as children.
"There is no way to spin this — immigrant youth will suffer in detention camps and be deported because Senator Nelson delayed a breakthrough on the Dream Act today," Cristina Jimenez, executive director of the immigrant-rights group United We Dream, announced last evening in a news release. "United We Dream and our members are outraged because our members, including my brother Jonathan, are in greater danger today because of the cowardice of US Senators."
Likewise, the Florida Immigrant Coalition last night issued a scathing statement directed at the Senate Democrats who voted for the bill as well.
"We are angry and disappointed by the cowardice Senate Democrats have shown in giving up their leverage based on assurances by GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has proven himself over and over again to negotiate in bad faith," the coalition wrote. "They are ignoring the 83 percent of Americans who want Dreamers to stay in this country. The White House keeps moving the goalpost in the Dream Act negotiations out of reach as they pursue their true goal — ending all immigration from countries they deem unworthy. When backing down, Senate Democrats have unfortunately left the fate of immigrants uncertain and the future of Dreamers in doubt."
Budget negotiations are one of the few places where Democrats actually held leverage over a universally powerful Republican Party, which otherwise controls the House, Senate, and the presidency. But the GOP alone can't muster the 60 votes needed to pass a budget bill, which meant Democrats could have held out and forced the GOP to concede and protect the roughly 800,000 Dreamers living in limbo and possibly facing deportation.
Nelson initially declined to vote on a spending bill until it included protections for undocumented children and teens. But after tweeting out a fancy New York Times photo spread of him "negotiating" a bipartisan deal with moderate Senate Democrats and Republicans, Nelson ultimately voted yesterday to fund the government through February — without any added promises for Dreamers.
This is a win for bipartisanship. For days, I've been working with a group of moderate senators to end the shutdown & get a commitment to take up other bills. As a result, there is now a path forward to help Dreamers, fund the military and provide disaster assistance to Florida.— Bill Nelson (@SenBillNelson) January 22, 2018
The bill does include a commitment to "negotiate" a plan for the undocumented in the coming weeks, but nothing is guaranteed, and many expect McConnell, one of the most obvious and craven liars in American political history, will screw Democrats and immigrants. Immigrants and activists, especially those who have worked to pressure Nelson in the past few weeks, blasted the compromise.
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.@SenBillNelson please don't try to excuse your political cowardice under the guise of respectability politics and bipartisanship. This IS the time for partisan politics. The myth of radical centrism is over. Pick a side, embrace the base, and fight for your values. https://t.co/MQ3LiYDWmA— Tomas Kennedy (@tomaskenn) January 22, 2018
Nelson isn't the only Florida politico who buckled under pressure despite promising to help Dreamers. Miami Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a self-labeled moderate Republican, had promised not to vote for any spending package that did not include protections for undocumented kids. He also reneged on that promise yesterday.
Now hundreds of thousands of children and teens, not to mention millions of other undocumented adults in America, are basically praying that McConnell, a person who displays sheer glee at breaking promises with Democrats, will actually keep a promise with Democrats. Frustratingly, it appears Nelson has no idea whom he's fighting for or against or why. He appears to have no clue what young Democrats really want — he has refused to endorse the common-sense Medicare-for-all movement and last week voted to extend the National Security Agency's unconstitutional ability to spy on American citizens without warrants. Now he has kowtowed to McConnell.
"This is not the time for partisan politics," he tweeted yesterday, seemingly unaware that by striking a deal with Republicans, he has pissed off the very voters he expects will cast ballots for him in eight months.