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 AmashOn The Money: Trump says he won't declare emergency 'so fast' | Shutdown poised to become longest in history | Congress approves back pay for workers | More federal unions sue over shutdown The 7 Republicans who voted against back pay for furloughed workers GOP conference chair: Steve King's comments were 'abhorrent' and 'racist' 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 TrumpVeterans groups demand end to shutdown: 'Get your act together' Brown launches tour in four early nominating states amid 2020 consideration Pence on border wall: Trump won't be ‘deterred’ by Dem ‘obstruction’ 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 HoyerSenate advances measure bucking Trump on Russia sanctions Hoyer introducing legislation to block Trump from lifting sanctions on Russian companies Democrats turn down White House invitation for shutdown talks 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 PelosiVeterans groups demand end to shutdown: 'Get your act together' On The Money: Shutdown Day 25 | Dems reject White House invite for talks | Leaders nix recess with no deal | McConnell blocks second House Dem funding bill | IRS workers called back for tax-filing season | Senate bucks Trump on Russia sanctions Overnight Defense: Trump faces blowback over report he discussed leaving NATO | Pentagon extends mission on border | Senate advances measure bucking Trump on Russia sanctions 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 McCarthyHouse vote fails to quell storm surrounding Steve King House passes resolution condemning white nationalism Latest funding bill to reopen the government fails in House MORE (R-Calif.) and Majority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseScalise: Trump wants Congress to solve shutdown problem Scalise on Steve King's white supremacy remarks: 'There is no place for hate' House votes to reopen Interior, EPA as shutdown fight wages on 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 RyanHouse vote fails to quell storm surrounding Steve King House passes resolution condemning white nationalism Anti-Defamation League calls on House leaders to censure Steve King over white supremacy comments 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 HigginsGOP lawmaker wants to drug test Congress Trump officials attended conference where speaker said carbon dioxide makes planet 'greener' Trump’s endorsements cement power but come with risks 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 Booker5 takeaways from Barr’s testimony Booker presses Barr on impact of mass incarceration on black Americans Barr: I wouldn't go after businesses relying on Obama-era marijuana policy MORE (N.J.) and Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandBrown launches tour in four early nominating states amid 2020 consideration Gillibrand announces exploratory committee to run for president on Colbert Hopes fade for bipartisan bills in age of confrontation MORE (N.Y.), as well as New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D). The House bill, sponsored by Rep. Mark PocanMark William PocanHouse Dems to introduce minimum wage bill Congress poised to push back at Trump on Saudi Arabia, Syria Jayapal introduces bill to repeal pay-go 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.”