U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand are among the names leading the list of likely Democratic presidential candidates in 2020. Ms. Warren, who represents Massachusetts, is a bred-in-the-bone liberal. Ms. Gillibrand, a former congresswoman from upstate New York, has progressively moved left with her rising ambitions since she filled the Senate seat vacated by Hillary Clinton in 2008.
Both sitting senators, who are up for re-election this fall, have now joined what until recently had been a fringe movement on the U.S. left calling for the abolition of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency that applies immigration laws and carries out deportation orders. What triggered Ms. Warren’s decision to jump on the “Abolish ICE” bandwagon was the order by U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration (since rescinded) to separate illegal border-crossers held in detention from their children, sparking worldwide outrage.
“The President’s deeply immoral actions have made it obvious we need to rebuild our immigration system from top to bottom, starting by replacing ICE with something that reflects our morality and that works,” Ms. Warren told a rally in Boston last month.
ICE was set up within the Homeland Security Department in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks. The legislation enabling its creation, the Homeland Security Act, passed the Senate by a 90-to-9 vote in 2002. As the tally showed, moderate Democrats overwhelmingly supported it.
While ICE’s responsibilities are entrenched in law, how it carries out its obligations is largely dictated by the executive branch. Former president Barack Obama directed ICE to focus on deporting illegal immigrants who had been convicted of a serious crime, leading to a record number of expulsions during his time in office. Mr. Trump may have taken a mean-spirited, zero-tolerance approach toward illegal immigration, but no one can blame ICE for an order made by the President, and in a recent poll, only one in four said they would get rid of the agency.
Yet Abolish ICE has been one of the focal points of Democratic primary races aimed at choosing candidates for the fall midterm elections. Just as the Tea Party emerged during the Obama era to knock off establishment Republicans – helping create the gridlock in Congress that ensued – break-everything Democrats now threaten their party’s establishment en route to 2020.
Last month’s Democratic primary victory by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York’s 14th District, encompassing parts of Queens and the Bronx, over establishment incumbent Joseph Crowley has given heartburn to moderate Democrats in swing districts who fear the noisy exuberance of the Abolish ICE activists will see their party snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in November.
It’s easy for solidly blue-state and blue-district Democrats such as Ms. Warren, Ms. Gillibrand and Ms. Ocasio-Cortez to hew left to mobilize young and minority voters because their November midterm elections are already in the bag. But for Democrats in the districts and states the party needs to take from Republicans to take control of Congress, the “Abolish ICE,” “Medicare for All," “Free-Tuition” rallying cries of hard-left liberal Democrats risks scaring away average voters and diverting attention from the real issue at hand: strengthening Congress’s hand against Mr. Trump.
“I do think we are in a crisis of late stage capitalism, where people are working 60, 80 hours a week and they can’t feed their families,” Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, told The New Yorker’s David Remnick in explaining her primary win. “There is a lot that is economically dystopic in this country. So that’s why people are open to change.”
If Ms. Ocasio-Cortez wants to know what economic dystopia really looks like, she should visit Venezuela or Nicaragua, whose leaders claim to espouse the same socialist ideals as her.
Americans, by and large, do not feel they are witnessing capitalism’s last gasps, especially not with the unemployment rate at 4 per cent over all and at record lows of 4.8 per cent and 6.6 per cent among Hispanics and African-Americans, respectively.
The half of Americans who don’t already get their health insurance from the government, either through federal Medicare for seniors or state Medicaid programs for the poor, mostly cringe at the thought of a Medicare-for-all program that would deprive them of private choices. Most prefer the employer-provided health insurance or Obamacare subsidies they receive now to a public system. Countless attempts at health-care reform have shown that to be true.
What’s most astonishing about candidates such as Ms. Ocasio-Cortez is that the target of their ire is not Mr. Trump. In fact, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez and her ilk largely support Mr. Trump’s protectionist trade measures and isolationist foreign policies. As with him, they, too, are anti-globalists.
And the Democratic civil war they have started is their gift to the President.