GOP forces House Democrats into 'gotcha vote' supporting ICE

PHOTO: A foreign nationals is seen getting arrested during a targeted enforcement operation conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) aimed at immigration fugitives, re-entrants and at-large criminal aliens in Los Angeles, Feb. 10, 2017.PlayCharles Reed/U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement via AP
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House Republicans forced a vote Wednesday on a resolution to express support for ICE -- Immigration and Customs Enforcement -- enraging Democrats who complained the measure was a political stunt intended to embarrass Democrats who have called to abolish the embattled agency.

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The vote passed by a count of 244 to 35, as 133 Democrats elected to vote "present" on the resolution. The bill was brought to the floor under suspension of the rules, which requires a two-thirds super-majority of members voting and present for passage. About 69 percent of members voted in favor of the resolution.

The showdown played out on Capitol Hill in dramatic fashion as several progressive Democrats have signed onto new legislation that would abolish ICE and redistribute many of its responsibilities to other agencies.

The vast majority of House Democrats refused to take an up or down position on the non-binding resolution. Instead, 133 Democrats, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Whip Steny Hoyer and Assistant Leader James Clyburn, voted “present.” Eighteen Democrats supported the resolution, while 34 bold Democrats took the plunge to vote a hard “no.”

ICE, which has more than 20,000 employees across the world, has drawn the brunt of anger from progressives as the Trump administration enforces its “zero-tolerance” policy against illegal immigration – leading to the separation of children from their parents after they’re caught crossing the border. But that policy is enforced by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, not ICE.

Republicans stress that ICE's critical objectives are to enforce border control, thwart human and drug trafficking, and prevent terrorists from entering the United States.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, called the GOP’s resolution “a meaningless political stunt” and the “legislative equivalent of sponsored child abuse.”

“This bill would do nothing to ensure families will be united,” Nadler, D-N.Y., said during debate on the measure. “This is a humanitarian crisis. We do not have the time to waste with political stunts like this bill while the moral fiber of our country is torn apart.”

Rep. Mark Pocan, the lead author of H.R.6361 -- Establishing a Humane Immigration Enforcement System Act -- said Republicans are using “misdirection” to shift attention away from family separation to border security.

“Today the Republicans are playing a cruel trick on the American people,” Pocan, D-Wis., said. “I won’t be complicit in their attempts.”

After Republicans backed off a threat to hold a vote on Pocan’s bill earlier this week when Democrats signaled they’d vote against it, GOP leaders decided to schedule a vote on the H. Res. 990, a resolution crafted by Rep. Clay Higgins of Louisiana that also denounced efforts to abolish ICE.

“Calls to abolish ICE are reckless, dangerous to America's national security and threaten the well-being of our ICE agents,” Higgins, R-La., said. “The American people deserve to know where every member of this body stands. To vote present on this resolution reflects fear. The American citizenry deserves a courageous vote.”

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise told reporters the vote “shows an important contrast in this country” and underscores “what's at stake in this November election” as Republicans and Democrats vie for the House majority.

“We stand up for our ICE agents and the people that are keeping America safe. They want to get rid of them,” Scalise said. “It's a radical idea they have, and this resolution's really important.”

“It's a shame and a distraction,” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., disagreed. “It's an outrageous attempt to hide the continuing suffering of children behind a partisan attack on Democrats. This is exactly the kind of gotcha vote that alienates the Americans from our government.”

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