Ocasio-Cortez Doubles Down on Abolishing ICE

Putting your money where her mouth is

By Andrew R. Arthur on January 24, 2019

While much of the attention of late regarding the government shutdown has been focused on dueling Senate proposals to fund the government, the House of Representatives on January 23, 2019, passed H.R. 648, captioned "Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2019". Ten Republican members voted against their party leadership on passage of that bill, but only one Democrat: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC), and for a very specific reason: It funded U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

This is not the first time that AOC has proposed the abolition of the agency that is responsible for enforcing the immigration and customs laws in the interior of the United States, as my colleague Dan Cadman explained in a July 6, 2018, post. But in this particular instance, however, she is actually putting your money, and pay for hundreds of thousands of government employees, where her mouth is.

Graham McGillivray at C-SPAN posted AOC's explanation of her vote on his Twitter feed:

He even included a separate tweet that highlighted her objection to the provision in question:

AOC's action is notable for two reasons. First, it is easy to speak in generalities about the abolition of a government agency that performs a vital national security task. Politicians of all stripes make sweeping statements all the time about proposals that have no chance of ever being enacted. Politics is the art of compromise, however, and at the end of the day when your party is attempting to hang a government shutdown around the neck of the other party (and the president who is the head of that party), you would logically go along to get along, and explain your vote later in nuanced terms that refer to the hardships that are being suffered by government employees forced to work for no pay. Not AOC.

Second, this is a difficult position for AOC to back off of later, without being accused of waffling. How could she ever take make any statement, or take any vote, supporting ICE without being blamed for backsliding? There is no real issue when taking a vote in the House of Representatives, where the Democrats hold 16 more seats than they need to pass legislation. AOC can take protest vote after protest vote all day there, most of the time.

What happens, however, if she ends up on a committee such as Appropriations or Judiciary with actual power to adversely affect ICE where the balance only narrowly supports the majority party, and hers is the deciding vote? A shrewd ranking member (the head of the minority party on a committee) could cajole his or her fellow members to vote in line with AOC: At the end of the day, the headline would report that she was the one who scuttled the legislation. Don't believe me? As noted, 10 Republicans voted for H.R. 648, but NBC News is not writing about them, except in passing; they are not even named. Those are the tricks you play in the minority.

Nancy Pelosi is the head of the Democratic Party in the House of Representatives. Many more votes like this one, however, and AOC will become the face of the party in that body, at least as it relates to immigration. For Donald Trump, that will likely not be a bad thing.

AOC is on the House Oversight and Reform Committee ("HOR", formerly House Oversight and Government Reform, presumably because dropping one word gives them universal jurisdiction). As that committee's website notes, it has jurisdiction over, among other things:

Federal civil service, including intergovernmental personnel; and the status of officers and employees of the United States, including their compensation, classification, and retirement.

What if AOC decides that ICE officers' pay should be cut because she does not like the agency's mission? That would be wholly consistent with her vote on H.R. 468. What if she introduced a bill to that effect? It would be referred to HOR. Would Chairman Elijah Cummings refuse to consider the bill? What if he were to need her assistance on some other proposal, and therefore agreed to? Such deals are cut on committees all the time. What would the American people really think about such a short-sighted, foolhardy endeavor, however?

Democrats can talk all that they want about their support for border security. What if the face of your party on immigration, however, supports proposals that would allow alien criminals to roam free in the United States? Mixed messaging is a disaster for a party on an issue that the American people care about.

For Donald Trump in 2020, there is no better foil. There is an Irish toast: "We drink to your coffin. May it be built from the wood of a hundred year old oak tree that I shall plant tomorrow." If the president, like Tim Finnegan, "has a sort of a tipplin' way," he would likely raise a can of Diet Coke to AOC with this blessing.