Acting ICE chief apologizes for once calling Democrats 'NeoKlanist' party

Acting ICE chief apologizes for once calling Democrats 'NeoKlanist' party
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The acting head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on Thursday apologized for once tweeting that the Democratic Party should be renamed the “NeoKlanist party."

Ronald Vitiello, who has been nominated to be assistant Homeland Security secretary for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, made the apology in his testimony before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee as they deliberated whether to confirm him as head of the agency.

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“It was meant as a joke. I wasn't trying to do anything other than make a joke. I regret it," Vitiello said of the tweet, which he sent in 2015, according to The Associated Press.

The AP noted that in 2015, conservative commentator Mark Levin asked for new names for the Democratic Party on Twitter. In response, Vitiello suggested it should be called the "liberalcratic party or the NeoKlanist party."

On Thursday, Vitiello told the senators that he thought he was sending the suggestion via direct message, adding that it was wrong to send it.

Vitiello, who has been a law enforcement agent for more than 30 years, is vying to become the head of an agency that has received intense backlash from some progressives.

A number of progressive Democrats have called for ICE to be abolished and have criticized the 15-year-old agency for its role in carrying out the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy that led to thousands of families being separated at the southern border.

“If confirmed, one of my highest priorities will be to better demonstrate to the public, Congress, and the media the importance of our mission to homeland security and public safety — and why our agency’s existence should not be up for debate,” Vitiello said

Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) reportedly asked Vitiello whether he would try help tone down the rhetoric about immigration coming out of the White House.

Vitiello responded that he would be committed to considering the impact words have.

The committee is expected to vote on his nomination after Thanksgiving, according to AP.