Democrats break with left on ICE

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Senate Democratic candidates are breaking with progressives who are calling for the abolishment of ICE.

The push to nix Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has gained steam among the party’s resurgent liberal base in response President Trump’s immigration policies that led to the separation of thousands of immigrant families along the U.S.-Mexico border.

House candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez brought the issue into the national spotlight with her shocking defeat of Rep. Joseph Crowley (D) in last month’s New York primary. And some of the party’s 2020 presidential hopefuls, including Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) and Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), have rallied behind the effort to dismantle ICE.

{mosads}But Democratic candidates locked in tight races that will likely determine which party controls the Senate next year are stopping short of embracing the idea as they try to win over moderate voters.

“No, I don’t think we should,” Sen. Bill Nelson (Fla.), a vulnerable Democrat seeking reelection, said on Monday when asked if he agreed with calls to abolish ICE.

And it’s not just Senate incumbents who are unwilling to commit to scrapping the agency.

Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), a progressive lawmaker hoping to defeat Sen. Dean Heller (R), isn’t endorsing the push to abolish ICE.

When asked about the issue on Monday, a spokeswoman for her campaign pointed to a recent CNN interview, where Rosen said ICE “does a lot of other things people don’t realize,” and Congress should instead “ask the president to stop his reckless and harmful policies right now.”

A spokesperson for Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), who’s running to fill the seat being vacated by GOP Sen. Jeff Flake, didn’t respond to a request for comment on Monday. But the Democratic Senate hopeful told an Arizona TV station last week that getting rid of ICE “isn’t realistic and doesn’t make sense.”

Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas), who will face off against Sen. Ted Cruz (R), has gone against the grain. He’s expressed a willingness to consider abolishing ICE.

“If it’s reorganizing the Department of Homeland Security and changing the functions of ICE, having greater accountability, abolishing that agency altogether, that’s fine,” he told a Texas radio station. “But there will still have to be enforcement of our immigration laws in this country.”

Those comments follow an interaction with O’Rourke at an event last week at which a woman told him ICE is a “terroristic organization” and compared it to the “Gestapo.”

The spiraling fight over ICE highlights divisions between progressives who want to play hardball and energize the base, and centrist Democrats focused on the 2018 midterm elections, where the party is trying to hold seats in several states that Trump won in 2016.

Democrats in red and purple states are getting some cover from leadership, their rank-and-file colleagues and other well-known figures in the party who have declined to endorse calls to abolish the immigration agency.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters following Ocasio-Cortez’s primary victory that he believed ICE should be reformed. Sen. Doug Jones (Ala.) — a red-state Democrat up for reelection in 2020 — told CNN on Sunday that he wasn’t in favor of abolishing ICE.

Meanwhile, Jeh Johnson, who served as secretary of Homeland Security under former President Obama, is warning Democrats that pivoting to abolish ICE could provide political fodder to Republicans who are eager to paint them as weak on border security.

“The reality is that abolishing ICE is not a serious policy proposal; it’s about as serious as the claim that Mexico’s ‘gonna pay for the wall,’ ” Johnson wrote July 6 in a Washington Post op-ed, adding that such rhetoric gives Trump “a useful weapon for bludgeoning Democrats politically” and “a good portion of the American public will listen to him.”

Democrats face a difficult electoral map in November, when they’ll be defending seats in 10 states that Trump won. They’re also trying to pick up seats in Arizona and Tennessee, in addition to unseating Cruz and Heller, the only Senate Republican running for reelection in a state that Hillary Clinton won in 2016.

The fight over ICE is laden with political landmines for Democrats, underscoring the widening divide within the party and similar divisions among voters they’ll need in November.

An Economist-YouGov poll conducted earlier this month found that 29 percent of U.S. adults support abolishing ICE, while 46 percent of Democrats and 54 percent of liberals said they would back that effort.

The fight over ICE comes as Democrats are viewed more favorably on broad immigration policy. In a Washington Post-Schar School poll released last week, 38 percent of respondents said the party does a better of job of handling immigration, compared to 30 percent who say Trump does a better job.

By comparison, 37 percent said Trump has a better handle on border security, while 27 percent say congressional Democrats are better at dealing with the issue, according to the same poll.

Republicans are eager to exploit the narrative that Democrats are weak on border security, saying calls to abolish ICE are a sign the party has grown out of touch with moderate voters.

Cruz, during a campaign event last week, dismissed eliminating the immigration agency as “radical” and “nuts.”

Meanwhile, Trump is seizing on immigration as a campaign issue as he looks to drum up support from his base.

“A vote for Democrats in November is a vote to let MS-13 run wild in our communities, to let drugs pour into our cities, and to take jobs and benefits away from hardworking Americans,” Trump said in a tweet last week. “Democrats want anarchy, amnesty and chaos – Republicans want LAW, ORDER and JUSTICE!”

Tags Bill Nelson Charles Schumer Dean Heller Donald Trump Elizabeth Warren Hillary Clinton Jacky Rosen Jeff Flake Kirsten Gillibrand Ted Cruz
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