California Sen. Dianne Feinstein is under pressure from activists and fellow Democrats to withhold support for a spending bill that would avert a government shutdown in exchange for protections for people brought to the country illegally as children.
Feinstein said in October that protections for so-called Dreamers are "the most important thing we can get done," but the senator known for her moderate bent said this week that she won't try to block the end-of-the-year spending bill over it, and has not offered an explanation.
Dreamers this week flooded Feinstein's five California offices and her office on Capitol Hill. Two UCLA students refused to leave her Capitol Hill office after three hours Tuesday and were briefly detained by police. On Wednesday, about a dozen students and parents returned and were asked to leave after about 30 minutes of shouting in her office lobby.
"No more talk," they chanted. "California deserves action, California deserves a fighter. If you are a leader, come out."
About a quarter of the nearly 800,000 Dreamers live in California.
At a Los Angeles rally Wednesday, one of Feinstein's Democratic primary challengers, state Senate leader Kevin de León, complained that she is "AWOL." De León has trailed heavily in early polls as Feinstein seeks a fifth full term.
"Don't come back to California if you haven't demonstrated your leadership and your courage to stand up for these young men and women," De León said.
Republican leaders have said they have plenty of time to address Dreamers' legal status. Republicans want a fix that includes increased border protections, and many Democrats acknowledge that a solution is not possible by the end of the year.
In September, President Trump decided to discontinue the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program by March and asked Congress to come up with a solution for Dreamers. Since then, an average of 122 recipients a day have lost deportation protection and work permits.
While there are enough House Republicans to pass a spending bill on their own, Republicans will need Democratic support in the Senate, where it needs 60 votes to pass. Republicans hold just 51 seats.
Feinstein's counterpart, California Sen. Kamala Harris, announced in October that she wouldn't support the spending bill without a fix for Dreamers. Half a dozen Democratic senators have made similar declarations, far short of the number needed to block the bill.
Feinstein is also being lobbied by some California House members.
Rep. Nanette Barragán of San Pedro, whose cousin is among the Dreamers anxiously waiting a resolution, said she called Feinstein Wednesday to urge her to help block the spending bill.
"This is an opportunity right now to make Republicans come to the table. They shouldn't need our votes, and frankly in the Senate they do and this is an opportunity to get those protections that they keep telling us they want for Dreamers as well," Barragán said. "I hope that she would stand with the Dreamers on this issue. It's a critical time."
One of the protesters in Feinstein's office, Jonathan Paik, 29, of Fullerton, said that with so many Dreamers in California, Feinstein "has more responsibility to be a leader."
Even though Feinstein has sponsored one of the legislative fixes being considered, Paik said protesters don't feel like Feinstein is doing all she can.
"We will remember, and that is something that I think is very critical to understand .... that in a moment of critical leadership she did not step into that [role] and we're going to remember," he said.
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Read more about the 55 members of California's delegation at latimes.com/politics
Times staff writer Jazmine Ulloa contributed to this report.