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Is it too much to ask Congress to govern without extortionate brinkmanship?

Is it too much to ask Congress to govern without extortionate brinkmanship?
President Donald Trump, flanked by Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wis., gestures on Capitol Hill, before his address to a joint session of Congress on Feb. 28, 2017. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press)

A federal district court judge last week ordered the Trump administration to continue the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program while the courts consider a legal challenge to the president's decision to bring it to a close on March 5. Hoping to short-circuit the appeals process, the administration has now taken the unusual step of asking the Supreme Court to hear its appeal directly.

Even on an accelerated court calendar, however, it will be weeks to months before the legal skirmishing ends. In the meantime, the "Dreamers" — people raised in the U.S. since childhood without legal permission to live here — can continue to seek deferred deportation status, allowing them to work, go to school, and otherwise go on with their lives as the Americans they are in spirit, if not under the law or in the eyes of the Trump administration.

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So why are some congressional Democrats clinging to their threat to block a stopgap funding bill and shut down the government Friday night unless a legislative fix for the Dreamers is included?

The Dreamers' status should be resolved sooner rather than later; it makes no sense to wait for lawmakers to settle their differences on the complicated and logjammed matter of comprehensive immigration reform. Poll after poll shows that even a large majority of Republicans believes the Dreamers should be allowed to stay in the U.S., though disagreements remain over whether they should be given a path to citizenship. But resolving the Dreamer issue is within political reach, and the judge's decision ordering the Trump administration to continue the program removes the imminent pressure that they will be deported. Democrats should not dig in their heels and force a shutdown. They and the Dreamers have room to breathe. They should take it and continue to press for legislation that should be able to pass on its own merits.

It's disturbing, but also unfortunately a regular occurrence, that factions in Congress look at continuing resolutions — temporary funding measures that keep the government's lights on — as a chance to ram through legislation on which there is not a consensus, or that does not face an imminent deadline. For instance, the House Freedom Caucus — the cluster of far-right representatives that are the tail wagging the Republican dog — now seeks a floor vote on the Securing America's Future Act, a contentious slate of border security and immigration measures, in exchange for supplying the votes the continuing resolution may need to pass the House. But holding hostage the basic functions of government for political gamesmanship is objectionable no matter which party is adopting the strategy.

Is it too much to ask that Congress find a way to actually govern without resorting to extortionate brinkmanship? Apparently so.

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