House backs resolution expressing support for ICE
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The House on Wednesday approved a GOP resolution expressing support for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) amid a push from some liberal Democrats to dismantle the agency altogether.

Republicans had hoped to divide Democrats by bringing up legislation hailing ICE as vital to the protection of Americans’ public safety — a vote that could prove significant in pockets of the country where immigration enforcement resonates most loudly.

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The measure was approved in a 244-35 vote that fell largely on party lines. Eighteen Democrats voted to back ICE and 34 opposed the resolution, which for procedural reasons required support from two-thirds of the lawmakers to pass. Rep. Justin AmashJustin AmashGOP lawmaker tells party to 'do better' after O'Rourke St. Patrick's Day post The 25 Republicans who defied Trump on emergency declaration Trump: I told Republicans to vote for 'transparency' in releasing Mueller report MORE (R-Mich.), a libertarian-minded lawmaker known for bucking his own leadership, was the only Republican to vote against the resolution.

The measure has little chance of moving further, as Senate Democrats — tapping the power of the filibuster — blocked a similar Republican resolution on Wednesday.

Republicans have pounced on those Democrats seeking to abolish ICE, accusing them of defending immigrants with no legal status — including violent criminals — instead of protecting the American public.

As if to drive the point home, President TrumpDonald John TrumpDem lawmaker says Electoral College was 'conceived' as way to perpetuate slavery Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals to visit White House on Monday Transportation Dept requests formal audit of Boeing 737 Max certification MORE took to Twitter after the vote in a remarkable attack equating Democrats with a violent Hispanic gang.

“The two biggest opponents of ICE in America today are the Democratic Party and MS-13!” Trump tweeted.

Democratic leaders did not formally whip Wednesday’s vote, but they had urged their members to vote “present.” The strategy was aimed at both protecting vulnerable Democrats from a contentious vote and protesting what most Democrats deemed a political stunt designed to distract the media and the public from Congress’s failure to enact immigration reforms, including efforts to address the separation of migrant families on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Most Democrats did just that, with 133 voting “present.”

“I’m voting ‘present’ on this resolution because it’s a sham and a distraction,” Rep. Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerHillicon Valley: Social media faces scrutiny after New Zealand attacks | YouTube removed 'tens of thousands' of shooting videos | DHS chief warns of state-backed cyber threats | House Dems plan April vote on net neutrality House to take up gender pay gap, Violence Against Women Act House Dems plan April vote on net neutrality bill MORE (D-Md.), the minority whip, said just before the vote. “It’s an outrageous attempt to hide the continued suffering of children behind the partisans’ attack on Democrats.”

“This is a very sad day,” echoed House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiHistory teaches that Nancy Pelosi is right about impeachment The politics and practicalities of impeachment The Hill's Morning Report - Dems contemplate big election and court reforms MORE (D-Calif.), pivoting to the controversy surrounding the separation of migrant families at the border.

The ICE debate has not been contentious only for Democrats. Disagreements among the GOP brass over how best to approach the issue — and highlight the liberal “abolish ICE” movement — have also flared up in recent days.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyOvernight Energy: McConnell tees up vote on Green New Deal | Centrist Dems pitch alternative to plan | House Republican likens Green New Deal to genocide | Coca-Cola reveals it uses 3M tons of plastic every year House GOP lawmaker says Green New Deal is like genocide GOP lawmakers: House leaders already jockeying for leadership contests MORE (R-Calif.) and Majority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseTrump keeps tight grip on GOP GOP lawmakers: House leaders already jockeying for leadership contests House Republicans find silver lining in minority MORE (R-La.) had initially wanted to bring to the floor a measure sponsored by several liberal Democrats that would have abolished ICE, redirecting the agency’s duties to other branches of the federal government.

The strategy was rejected by Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanPaul Ryan joins board of Fox Corporation Bottom Line Paul Ryan says Trump will win reelection because of 'record of accomplishment' MORE (R-Wis.), who has vowed not to consider any immigration legislation that lacks Trump’s support. As a result, the Republicans altered course and opted to consider the resolution hailing ICE instead of that terminating it, according to a source with knowledge of the discussions.

That decision arrived after the liberal sponsors of the “abolish ICE” legislation indicated they would oppose their own bill, if it hit the floor, to protest the Republicans’ effort to force Democrats to take tough votes on legislation with no chance of passing.

GOP leaders pounced on the announcement.

“They lack the courage of their so-called convictions, because when we offered the ability to bring the bill up, abolish ICE ... Democrats said they would vote ‘no,’ ” McCarthy said Wednesday on the House floor. “They wanted the glory of introducing a bill to the far left of their own party, but they didn’t have the guts to accept the consequences. That’s the kind of leadership that the Democrats have to offer.”

The measure backing ICE, introduced by Rep. Clay HigginsGlen (Clay) Clay HigginsNielsen testifies: Five things you need to know GOP lawmaker compares illegal immigration to D-Day invasion Congressional aide arrested on pandering charges tied to prostitution raid MORE (R-La.), highlights the agency’s work in combatting drug and human trafficking. It argues that eliminating the agency would lead to an increase in crime and open borders. Those urging ICE’s termination, it continues, pose “an insult to these heroic law enforcement officers who make sacrifices every day to secure our borders, enforce our laws, and protect our safety and security.”

Calls to abolish ICE, which was formed in 2003, gained national prominence following last month’s shocking primary defeat of Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.) by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a young Hispanic activist who made the elimination of ICE — and the reallocation of its duties — a central component of her successful campaign.

The movement picked up steam with the endorsement of several prominent Democratic lawmakers, including Sens. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerCNN to host town hall with Cory Booker in South Carolina O'Rourke sees 'a lot of wisdom' in abolishing Electoral College Gillibrand: Aide who claimed sexual harassment was 'believed' MORE (N.J.) and Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandGOP rep to introduce constitutional amendment to limit Supreme Court seats to 9 Senate Dems petition Saudi king to release dissidents, US citizen Howard Schultz to be featured in Fox News town hall MORE (N.Y.), as well as New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D). The House bill, sponsored by Rep. Mark PocanMark William PocanTwo lawmakers just debated the merits of Nickelback on the House floor On The Money: Mnuchin urges Congress to raise debt limit 'as soon as possible' | NY officials subpoena Trump Org's longtime insurer | Dems offer bill to tax financial transactions Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez back 'end the forever war' pledge MORE (D-Wis.), arrived last Thursday.

Democratic leaders, however, have pushed back against the notion of scrapping the agency, arguing it should instead be reformed to rein in an enforcement arm they consider overly militarized.

“The responsibilities that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency has must be done,” Hoyer said. “What we need to eliminate are bad practices, inhumane practices, practices inconsistent … with the American ethic.”