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House Approves Resolution Supporting Immigration And Customs Enforcement


In Congress today, the House voted to go on record backing the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency known as ICE. Most Democrats decide to sit out the vote because they said it was nothing but a political stunt. Republicans say that was the whole point.


STEVE SCALISE: I think it shows an important contrast in this country about what's at stake in this November election. We stand up for our ICE agents and the people that are keeping America safe. They want to get rid of them.

CHANG: That was the number three House Republican leader, Steve Scalise of Louisiana. NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell was following the vote. And she's here to explain the politics behind it. Hey, Kelsey.


CHANG: So why do Republicans want Democrats to go on the record about this right now?

SNELL: Well, they have just about a week and a day left before they leave Washington and go back home for a 5 1/2-week August recess. That is a long time when members are going to be back at home talking to voters. And Republicans want to establish a record for candidates before they head home. And they point to polls that say a majority of Americans support ICE. So they wanted Democrats to be on the record saying whether or not they do.

CHANG: Are Democrats worried that this will be embarrassing for them?

SNELL: It does show a split in the party, which is exactly what Republicans wanted. But Democrats used the debate on the floor before the vote to talk about family separation and the Republicans' failure to pass any immigration legislation. And Democrats mostly avoided taking a position on this by voting present, which means they didn't vote yes or vote no.

CHANG: Right.

SNELL: New York Congressman Jerrold Nadler explained that they were doing that because it wasn't a serious bill.


JERROLD NADLER: We do not have the time to waste with political stunts like this bill while the moral fiber of our country is torn apart.

SNELL: They were standing on the floor with big photos of children at the border. And Democratic leaders essentially told members to vote however they needed to vote politically. And I talked to several Democrats who acknowledged that this was a politically tricky vote, but it's one they couldn't avoid. Republicans could use this to paint a picture of Democrats as the entire party being opposed to ICE. But most of the Democrats I talked to said that they were prepared for that.

CHANG: So what do you think? Now that the votes over, is this an issue that's just going to fade away into the background? Or will there be more opportunities for Republicans to keep reopening this and hold more votes on immigration issues?

SNELL: Well, Republicans did just release a spending bill that has $5 billion for border security and the wall. And that's just a nonstarter for Democrats. I mean, we've seen this come up before - right? - that border security caused a shutdown fight in the past. And President Trump says fighting about immigration is good for Republicans. So we may see this come up over and over again. But Democrats I talked to say it's just as good for them. I talked to Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal from Washington. She was one of the sponsors of one of the bills pushing back on ICE. And I asked her about whether or not it was good for Democrats.


PRAMILA JAYAPAL: We know we win on family separation. And we know we win on immigration in general.

SNELL: Now that is a pretty strong statement. And most Democrats I talked to said something roughly similar - that they feel like the more they talk about immigration, the more the president has these situations where you have these blow-ups at the border - that children are not being reunited with their parents - they think that this is actually a good way for them to make an argument to voters about what kind of governance they would do as Democrats if they were to win back control of the House, which, of course, is the goal and the thing that they're trying to do in the next several months.

CHANG: All right, that's NPR's Kelsey Snell. Thank you, Kelsey.

SNELL: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kelsey Snell is a Congressional correspondent for NPR. She has covered Congress since 2010 for outlets including The Washington Post, Politico and National Journal. She has covered elections and Congress with a reporting specialty in budget, tax and economic policy. She has a graduate degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. and an undergraduate degree in political science from DePaul University in Chicago.