As Casey Stengel once lamented, “Can’t anyone here play this game?” House Republicans decided to force their Democratic opponents to go on the record on the “Abolish ICE!” mantra, scheduling Rep. Mark Pocan’s bill for a floor vote. The maneuver forced Pocan to renounce his own bill, and the vote would have likely driven a stake through the progressive rallying cry for the rest of the midterm cycle.
Alas, what might have been:
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.
What changed? Democrats derided it as a “political stunt,” including Pocan and two of his co-authors of the bill. Of course it was — just as the bill itself was a political stunt. It hit the mainstream of the Democratic Party after Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez scored a surprise win for Democratic Socialists in a New York primary, prompting leading Democrats to jump behind her abolish-ICE demand. Pocan and his leadership assumed the bill would have no chance of getting a floor vote and wanted to use it as a midterm election slogan to campaign against Donald Trump. When Kevin McCarthy announced that they would bring it to the floor for a roll-call vote, Democrats choked on it.
And for good reason. While “abolish ICE” sounded like a great slogan, it turns out that most Americans actually want the borders enforced — even among some surprising demographics, as I noted on Friday:
“Battleground” voters support family detention over release by a 64/35 margin, slightly more supportive than the 60/35 among non-battleground voters. African-American voters also slightly prefer family detention to release, 48/45, while Hispanics oppose it by just a 45/50 margin. That makes it pretty tough to call this a racist policy, although we will certainly see some politicians try to make that case.
That’s not the only bad news for Democrats who believe they have a winning issue on immigration enforcement. The same poll shows Trump winning on border security over Democrats in Congress, 37/27, a margin which doubles among battleground voters to 45/25. It widens a little further among independents, 42/18. It’s a virtual tie among women at 28/30, but men trust Trump far more at 46/24. Apparently, a lot of Americans take Democrats’ pledges to abolish ICE seriously. Small wonder that Paul Ryan pushed Marl Pocan’s bill to the floor — and small wonder than Pocan and other Democrats are bailing on it as fast as they can.
With that in mind, why bail on the floor vote? Turns out that Paul Ryan didn’t want Republicans to look “silly” if Democrats boycotted the vote:
House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) last week floated the idea of forcing Democrats to vote on a bill that would eliminate ICE, a proposal backed by the far-left but is unpopular with most voters. Republicans, the thinking went, would win either way: Democrats would either back the bill and watch Republicans use it against them in the midterms. Or a portion of Democrats would oppose it, depressing the liberal base.
But Ryan (R-Wis.) was concerned about a third option: that Democrats wouldn’t vote at all, or uniformly oppose it, making Republicans look silly. Last Friday, he told House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) he didn’t want to put the measure, sponsored by Progressive Caucus co-Chairman Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), on the floor — even though McCarthy told reporters just hours before that House Republicans would do just that.
But McCarthy, according to one leadership source, came to agree with Ryan. Since Democrats said they would vote against their own measure, he figured they already had a victory of sorts.
Of sorts. Why not get them on the record? Even if they had boycotted the vote, the GOP could have used that against them too. “Democrats are all talk when it comes to open borders,” the ad would have declared, “but even they won’t show up when it comes time to back up their extreme rhetoric with action.”
Silly? Sure. But it’s just as silly as suggesting that the issues of immigration enforcement originate in the agency that enforces the law, rather than the failures and contradictions in the laws themselves. If Pocan and other Democrats want to change the outcomes, they can change the law rather than blame the people enforcing it as it’s written. That kind of silliness requires the maximum possible sunlight. Talk about a missed opportunity.