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Maxine Waters corrects the record: she doesn’t want to abolish ICE

The California Democrat suggested her colleagues who want to abolish ICE might not have thought it through.

Maxine Waters at a Families Belong Together rally in Los Angeles in June 2018.
Maxine Waters at a Families Belong Together rally in Los Angeles in June 2018.
Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for Families Belong Together LA
Emily Stewart covers business and economics for Vox and writes the newsletter The Big Squeeze, examining the ways ordinary people are being squeezed under capitalism. Before joining Vox, she worked for TheStreet.

Unlike many other big-name Democrats, California Rep. Maxine Waters is not on board with calls to abolish ICE. And she believes those who are calling for an end to the agency, which enforces immigration laws within the US, have not thought the position through.

“I’ve never said a word about ICE,” Waters said when speaking at CNBC’s Capital Exchange breakfast in Washington, DC, on Wednesday, after reporter John Harwood mistakenly asked her about her position that Immigration and Customs Enforcement should be abolished.

The California Democrat corrected him to point out that she had not taken that position. “I’ve not been involved in the ICE debate,” she said.

A growing list of Democrats have called for ICE to be dismantled, including Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (NY) and Elizabeth Warren (MA), Rep. Mark Pocan (WI), New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, and House candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. But while Waters channeled progressive energy as an outspoken critic of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy leading to family separation, she hasn’t joined the push against the agency.

Instead, on Wednesday Waters offered a mild critique of those who have embraced the “abolish ICE” line and suggested they might not have completely considered the implications.

“Those people who decided and took the position that it had to be abolished did not think it through in ways that said it has to be reformed,” she said, citing the need for border patrol and an agency responsible for immigration enforcement. “They didn’t really think it through and talk about it in a way that made good sense to people,” she added.

Waters suggested that perhaps those who believed she wanted ICE to be abolished had confused that with her stance against family separation.

The 79-year-old Congress member emerged as an important voice in opposing the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policies that resulted in the separation of hundreds of children from their parents.

She urged her supporters to “push back” against members of the Trump administration, and those comments were met with backlash from both Democrats and Republicans, including criticism from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and House Speaker Paul Ryan. Waters received death threats and subsequently canceled a pair of speaking events but remained defiant.

“If you shoot me, you better shoot straight,” she said at a Families Belong Together rally in Los Angeles in June. “There’s nothing like a wounded animal.”

Trump lumped in Waters with the “abolish ICE” camp just yesterday

President Donald Trump also conflated Waters with the “abolish ICE” crowd during a speech at the Veterans of Foreign Wars national convention in Kansas City, Missouri, on Tuesday.

“Instead of supporting our ICE officers, many of these Democrat politicians who are, really, disciples of a very low IQ person, Maxine Waters, and perhaps even worse, Nancy Pelosi, they’ve launched vicious smears on the brave men and women who defend our communities,” he said.

He said that ICE officers work in “dangerous conditions” and many are veterans. “But Democratic politicians want to abolish ICE. They want to see open borders. Can you imagine?”

Waters, as she pointed out on Wednesday, has not called for ICE to be abolished. Pelosi hasn’t either. The minority leader has, via a spokesperson, called for an “immediate and fundamental overhaul” of the agency, but she hasn’t said it should be disbanded altogether.

On Wednesday, Waters responded to Trump’s references to her as “low IQ” on multiple occasions and brushed off the matter. “I don’t care what he calls me,” she said, later adding, “Your president can say or do whatever he wants. It won’t bother me.”

If Democrats take back the House of Representatives in November, Waters is poised to head the House Financial Services Committee, a perch from which she could wield a lot of power. Beyond her legislative agenda — she’s introduced more than a dozen financial services bills this Congress alone — she could probe the scandals and conflicts of interest swirling around the Trump administration.

As ranking member of the committee, she’s already been a thorn in Trump’s side and has pushed for probes into the financial ties of Trump and those around him, including his relationship with Deutsche Bank and, perhaps, Russia.

And, of course, there’s also the matter of impeachment, which some Democrats have suggested they may take aim at if they’re in the majority in the House. Waters has called to “impeach 45” in the past. On Wednesday, she was more coy about the matter of impeaching Trump, but her stance was clear.

“I certainly think he is eligible for impeachment,” she said.