House GOP reverses, cancels vote on Dem bill to abolish ICE

In a surprising reversal, House GOP leaders have scrapped a floor vote on a Democratic measure calling for the abolishment of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Instead, the House will vote Wednesday on a resolution — authored by Rep. Clay HigginsGlen (Clay) Clay HigginsThe five dumbest things said about impeachment so far House GOP criticizes impeachment drive as distracting from national security issues VA under pressure to ease medical marijuana rules MORE (R-La.) — to support ICE, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyOvernight Health Care — Presented by American Health Care Association — Trump taps Pence to lead coronavirus response | Trump accuses Pelosi of trying to create panic | CDC confirms case of 'unknown' origin | Schumer wants .5 billion in emergency funds Trump names Pence to lead coronavirus response McCarthy: White House coronavirus funding request 'a little low' MORE (R-Calif.) told reporters on Monday.

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“What I found so interesting is the Democrats introduced a bill to abolish ICE ... we give them an opportunity, and they say they don’t want to vote for it,” said McCarthy, who controls which bills come to the House floor.

The California Republican said Thursday he intended to bring the abolish ICE bill to the floor in an attempt to force vulnerable Democrats to take a difficult vote. GOP leaders thought Democrats in swing districts would be reluctant to criticize the federal agency responsible for fighting human and drug trafficking and border enforcement.

But Democrats responded by vowing to vote “no” and dismissed it as an election year show vote. 

It’s a “political stunt,” Democratic Reps. Mark PocanMark William PocanOvernight Health Care — Presented by American Health Care Association — Trump taps Pence to lead coronavirus response | Trump accuses Pelosi of trying to create panic | CDC confirms case of 'unknown' origin | Schumer wants .5 billion in emergency funds Trump names Pence to lead coronavirus response Azar downplays chance Trump will appoint coronavirus czar MORE (Wis.), Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalDemocrats cancel surveillance vote over pushback to amendments 22 studies agree: 'Medicare for All' saves money Band Portugal. The Man to join Sanders at campaign event in Tacoma MORE (Wash.) and Adriano EspaillatAdriano de Jesus Espaillat CabralDemocrats ramp up calls for war powers vote after Iran strike Democrats vow court victories won't slow impeachment timeline Overnight Defense: Protests at Trump's NYC Veterans Day speech | House Dems release Pentagon official's deposition transcript | Lawmakers ask Trump to rescind Erdogan invite MORE (N.Y.) — the architects of the progressive-backed bill — said in a joint statement.

House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanPaul Ryan says he disagrees with Romney's impeachment vote Trump doubles down on Neil Cavuto attacks: 'Will he get the same treatment as' Shep Smith? Trump lashes out at Fox News coverage: 'I won every one of my debates' MORE (R-Wis.) and his team weren’t on board with the decision to hold a vote, according to a source with knowledge of the discussions. The decision to reverse course followed a standing meeting between Ryan and McCarthy on Friday, the source said.

Critics were concerned the move could ultimately backfire in the long run. 

“After being called on their bluff, Democrats ran scared from their own bill,” Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong said in a statement. “Democrats will now have the chance to stand with the majority of Americans who support ICE and vote for this resolution, or follow the extreme voices on the far left calling for abolishment of an agency that protects us.”

After being told of the GOP’s change of course, Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTrump passes Pence a dangerous buck Overnight Health Care — Presented by American Health Care Association — Trump taps Pence to lead coronavirus response | Trump accuses Pelosi of trying to create panic | CDC confirms case of 'unknown' origin | Schumer wants .5 billion in emergency funds Stone judge under pressure over calls for new trial MORE (D-Calif.) said Monday the idea was silly to begin with.

“They never should have brought it up in the first place,” Pelosi told The Hill. “I don’t know what they’re doing. They keep changing their minds.”

While the vote has been called off for now, House Majority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseHouse passes historic legislation to make lynching a federal hate crime Republicans root for Sanders nomination in battle for House Scalise after Democrat asks for examples of Sanders supporters 'being bad': 'I can think of an example' MORE (R-La.) still would like the bill to come to the floor.

“Whip Scalise remains supportive of having this vote. He brought it up at [Republican Study Committee] steering and deputy whip this week and was met with overwhelming support from members,” a source familiar with the Louisiana Republican’s thinking told The Hill.

Earlier, vulnerable GOP moderates had expressed hesitations about taking the abolish ICE vote, arguing they’d rather focus on policy that can pass Congress.

Rep. Jeff DenhamJeffrey (Jeff) John DenhamEx-Rep. Frelinghuysen joins law and lobby firm Lobbying world Bottom line MORE (R-Calif.) said that while he thinks local law enforcement has done a “very good job working with all levels of law enforcement,” he doesn’t believe ICE should be abolished. He also said he thinks the agency should concentrate its efforts on battling issues like human trafficking.

“I want to see us pass policy, make some changes that affect the entire country,” Denham told The Hill

Other moderate Republican leaders also said they would not vote to abolish ICE.  

“Those who want to abolish ICE represent an extremist ideology that clearly has overtaken the Democratic party,” said Rep. Tom ReedThomas (Tom) W. ReedThis week: Trump's budget lands with a thud on Capitol Hill Cuccinelli: New York reintroduced 'the main problem' that allowed 9/11 New Yorkers blocked from Global Entry program over immigrant license law MORE (R-N.Y.), co-chairman of the bipartisan Problems Solvers Caucus. “I stand with our customs officers and their families as they risk their lives daily protecting all of us.”

Rep. Elise StefanikElise Marie StefanikWhere do we go from here? Conservation can show the way The Hill's Morning Report — Trump basks in acquittal; Dems eye recanvass in Iowa Trump holds White House 'celebration' for impeachment acquittal MORE (R-N.Y.), co-chairwoman of the Tuesday Group, a bloc of GOP moderates, agreed that ICE should not be scrapped.

“I, of course, don’t agree with abolishing ICE. I represent a border district [next to Canada]. I think it’s important to support our law enforcement and make sure that we have a legal immigration system in this country,” Stefanik told The Hill on Monday.

“The thinking was getting Democrats on record because it’s a very divisive issue for them,” she added. “It would put my opponent in a difficult position.”

—Updated at 10:04 p.m. Melanie Zanona contributed.