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

The Hill logo The Hill 7/16/2018 Juliegrace Brufke and Scott Wong

Kevin McCarthy wearing a suit and tie © Provided by The Hill 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 Higgins (R-La.) - to support ICE, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told reporters on Monday.

"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 Pocan (Wis.), Pramila Jayapal (Wash.) and Adriano Espaillat (N.Y.) - the architects of the progressive-backed bill - said in a joint statement.

After being told of the GOP's change of course, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (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 Scalise (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 Denham (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 Reed (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 Stefanik (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."

Melanie Zanona contributed.

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