Sen. Chuck Schumer doubled down on Reid's promise not to go to conference on the funding bill, saying that House Speaker John Boehner had a choice to make.
Boehner, Schumer said, "knows he has a tiger by the tail in terms of the members of his caucus who are so intent on undoing the president's orders on immigration that they are willing to shut down the government, but it is a time for courage."
Democratic leaders said Tuesday that the majority of their members would not agree to move forward with the Collins bill until the DHS funding had passed the House as well. Reid said it would be "way premature" to get onto the Collins bill and begin what he termed a "many-weeks-long debate" on immigration before a DHS funding bill has made its way to Obama's desk.
Democrats worry that if House Republicans make changes to the DHS funding bill and send it back to the Senate, an immigration vote could take valuable floor time, making it difficult to finish the DHS funding process before the clock runs out.
McConnell spokesman Don Stewart accused Democrats of moving of the goalposts and said the Senate would proceed with the Collins bill no matter where DHS funding stands in the House.
McConnell first offered Senate Democrats a clean bill on Tuesday to fund DHS through October. First, Democrats asked for assurances from Boehner that the bill can pass the House. But it became increasingly clear that that wasn't going to happen.
The real concern among Democrats is that Sen. Ted Cruz or Jeff Sessions or another immigration hard-liner will force McConnell to stab them in the back. But Cruz said Wednesday that Democrats can't blame him for their trepidations; he won't delay passage of the bill.
Democrats met Wednesday for a full conference luncheon to discuss their options. In joining the Republican leadership and agreeing to move forward with a clean bill, Democrats fear that conservatives could hold up the legislation far past the deadline, shutting down DHS or, worse, could add even more egregious amendments. Once Democrats agree to get on the bill, they'd be powerless to stop such moves.
Asked about worries over extraneous amendments Wednesday, Reid told reporters, "Senator McConnell wouldn't do that. We're beyond that now."
Democrats agreed because they don't have many other options. They could continue to filibuster a clean bill, but after months of asking for one, they would look hypocritical. In pushing a clean bill, Republicans felt they had the upper hand and were unlikely to back down, forcing Democrats to choose between vulnerability and shutting down DHS themselves.
Given that dynamic, Democrats agreed during Wednesday's meeting to move forward with the clean DHS bill, giving Republicans the votes they'll need to pass the measure, despite their misgivings.
Even with Democrats on board, with Cruz, Sessions, and others raising alarm bells about a clean bill, the process could be lengthy and bloody. Although all 44 Democrats and both independents will vote for cloture, any single Republican member could hold up the whole process through at least Sunday (24 hours after DHS funding expires) and potentially as late as Tuesday.