House Republican leaders are likely to hold a vote on a liberal bill to abolish the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency — forcing Democrats to weigh in on a controversial issue that has divided the party just months before the midterms.
The proposal, which has become a progressive rallying cry in recent weeks, is anathema to the party’s more centrist members, who warn it threatens to alienate independent voters in critical districts they need to win back the House.
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Multiple GOP sources said House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) pushed for the bill to get a vote during a Republican Study Committee meeting Thursday, then again in a whip team huddle.
GOP members loved the idea: putting Democrats on record backing a measure that could turn off swing voters — or voting no and rebuking their own colleagues. It would also be an easy unifier for House Republicans, who are still licking their wounds from their own divisive immigration battle last month.
Republican leadership aides say a floor vote is likely later this month.
Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) introduced his bill to terminate ICE on Thursday, the latest effort in a push that’s gained steam among the party’s progressives and 2020 presidential contenders in recent weeks. Pocan first floated the idea of introducing the bill late last month after visiting the U.S.-Mexico border.
But Pocan and the bill‘s other authors, Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.), say they won’t be part of a GOP “political stunt.”
“If Speaker Ryan puts our bill on the floor, we plan to vote no and will instead use the opportunity to force an urgently needed and long-overdue conversation on the House floor,” they said in a statement, including on the abuses of the Trump administration’s immigration policy.
Meanwhile, members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus are also fuming over the liberal move to eliminate the agency, arguing the effort distracts from the ongoing family separation crisis and President Donald Trump’s broader immigration crackdown while handing Republicans a cudgel to wield against Democrats.
On top of that, several members of the caucus are frustrated that they weren’t consulted ahead of time on the bill. Pocan and Espaillat, a CHC member, met with the caucus on Thursday to try to ease some of the tensions.
The outreach seems to have done little good. The CHC did not take an official position on the bill and it’s unclear if the group — a key constituency in the party — will publicly weigh in at all.
Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), a member of the CHC and co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said he just saw the bill text two days ago. Grijalva said CHC lawmakers made clear at Thursday’s meeting that they were angry at being kept out of the loop until the bill’s introduction.
“On the issue of immigration, when they have been at the forefront of trying to deal with DACA, family separation and the kids, yes,” he said when asked if CHC members felt like they should have been consulted earlier.
The push to dismantle ICE has swerved into the Democratic mainstream quickly in recent weeks. What was once mostly a fringe argument on the far-left was thrust to the forefront last month following Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s stunning primary win over Rep. Joe Crowley, the No. 4 House Democrat.
Ocasio-Cortez made abolishing ICE a cornerstone of her progressive platform and after her win, several mainstream Democrats quickly voiced their support for tearing down or overhauling the agency.
But the battle cry hasn’t sat well with all in the party. One lawmaker who attended Thursday’s CHC meeting described the effort as “nothing but noise,” arguing all it does is help Republicans by taking the focus off of the migrant crisis.
The Trump administration has started reuniting migrant families but many young children remain separated from their parents, officials said Thursday.
Other lawmakers say they worry it will easily allow the GOP to paint Democrats as backing “open borders” heading into the final months of midterm campaigning, a messaging that could imperil Democratic efforts to win several swing seats and take back control of the House.
The CHC even distributed a series of talking points to its members in late June criticizing the idea.
“Abolishing ICE without changing President Trump’s disastrous immigration policy will not solve the problem,” caucus staffers wrote in a copy obtained by POLITICO.
The CHC points out that ICE’s jurisdiction goes far beyond interior immigration enforcement and includes “narcotics enforcement, investigating cybercrimes, human smuggling, firearms smuggling and counterterrorism.” In addition, nixing ICE would not get rid of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the agency tasked with enforcing immigration laws at the border.
Pocan defended the bill Thursday despite the controversy it’s generated on both sides of the aisle.
“I don’t think this is intended to be a political argument,” he said. “I want to get focused on the problem and the problem is the current way we do immigration, because of this president abusing it as a personal deportation force.”
Pocan went on to argue that no matter what Democrats say, Trump and Republicans are going to call them too soft on immigration.
“I actually kind of like it when they say things like, ‘Oh look this shows you want open borders,’” he said. “ICE doesn’t work at the borders, right? It shows that they’re lying.”
Ron Boehmer, a spokesman for Pocan, later noted that in addition to Espaillat, two other lawmakers in the 29-member Hispanic Caucus are also backing the bill: New York Democratic Reps. José Serrano and Nydia Velazquez.
“Everyone in the room agreed that the administration’s immigration policies are unacceptable and that we need to stand together against family separation,” Boehmer wrote in an email of the CHC meeting. “Additionally, members also agreed that the way President Trump is misusing ICE is creating problems.”
But Republicans from Trump on down have happily seized on the issue to try to paint Democrats as out of touch with the American public.
“It’s the craziest position I’ve ever seen and they are just, they’re tripping over themselves to move too far to the left,” Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said Thursday. “They are out of the mainstream of America and that’s one of the reasons why I feel very good about this fall.”