House Democrats know Republicans are looking to divide their caucus by holding a vote Wednesday on a resolution that rejects calls to completely abolish the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. They say they aren’t going to play the GOP’s political game.
Democratic leaders are not formally whipping for or against the resolution, but are urging their members to reject what they say is a political stunt by Republicans and vote “present,” according to a Democratic leadership aide.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has privately told members that the vote is political so they should do what’s best for their districts, the aide said.
“Our point is this is not a serious effort, nobody should take it as a serious effort,” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer told said, calling the measure “a political gotcha bill.”
Democrats leaders’ decision not to whip allows members to vote their consciences and their districts, but their suggestion of a “present” vote sends a strong signal that it’s best for the party that if Democrats remain united.
Still, there’s unlikely to be unanimity in the final vote tally. Some members will have a hard time not voting for the resolution, which basically expresses the House’s support for all ICE officers and personnel and denounces calls to completely abolish the agency.
The leadership aide noted that some members in marginal districts are expected to vote “yes."
Several members on Tuesday declined to say how they would vote, noting they still had to read the resolution.
“It plays out with different constituencies in different ways,” Hoyer said.
The Maryland Democrat said the majority of Democrats do not favor eliminating ICE.
“We’re for eliminating bad practices [and] bad policies,” Hoyer said. “Taking children from the arms of their mothers and fathers is terrible policy. It’s not about ICE, it’s about the policy. So we need to eliminate those kinds of things.”
But some Democrats do seriously want to effectively restructure ICE.
“We’re talking about making sure there’s a separate agency that deals with immigration enforcement with a heart,” Rep. Adriano Espaillat said.
The New York Democrat said his family and his constituents have been victims of crime and believes more resources should be spent combating drug dealers, human traffickers, firearm smugglers, etc. rather than the deportation efforts ICE spends most of its funding on.
Speaking Tuesday before leaders had decided on the vote “present” strategy, Espaillat said he planned to vote “no.” The leadership aide noted that some Congressional Hispanic Caucus members may vote against the resolution. Still, a CHC aide said most members of the caucus will likely vote present.
Espaillat authored a bill with Reps. Mark Pocan and Pramila Jayapal to terminate ICE within a year of Congress enacting “a humane immigration enforcement system” to be designed by a commission the legislation would establish.
Republican leaders had said they’d bring that bill to the floor, but then reversed course when the bill’s authors said Democrats would all vote against it rather than play the GOP’s political game.
Pocan, co-chair of the Progressive Caucus, said he thinks the strategy should be similar on the pro-ICE resolution since Republicans’ goal is still trying to cause a rift among Democrats.
“We know what they’re trying to do, and they’re not going to get their way,” he said, predicting Democrats would be “a pretty unified front.”
Pocan also continued the suggestion that Democrats instead spend the floor debate time discussing issues like family separations at the borders that Republicans have failed to address legislatively.
“Any opportunity we have to go on the floor to talk about what they should be doing but can’t because they’re dysfunctional, we’ll take that opportunity,” he said.
The leadership aide confirmed the intention is to make the floor debate all about the children being separated at the border and how the Republicans have still not done anything to address it.
A joint statement issued Wednesday morning from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), Congressional Progressive Caucus and House Judiciary Committee Democrats focused on that topic as well.
“It is outrageous that Republicans want to waste time on a sham resolution, while refusing to put forward any real solution to the cruel crisis that President Trump created by separating thousands of families at the border,” the Democrats said, calling the vote on the non-binding resolution “meaningless.”
“By engaging in these cynical political games the Republicans have demonstrated that they are not interested in holding this Administration accountable for its disastrous policies that have resulted in the shocking incarceration of children who have been forcibly taken from their parents,” the groups added. “Democrats will continue to demand that Republicans reunite children with their parents immediately.”
Watch: Democratic Candidates Raise Millions in Second Quarter Fundraising