MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Sen. Tammy Baldwin broke with fellow Wisconsin Democratic Rep. Mark Pocan on Monday, saying she does not support the push by him and other liberals to do away with the federal government's chief immigration agency.
Baldwin's Republican opponents have tried to make her position on the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, known as ICE, an issue in her re-election campaign. Pocan is among a contingent of liberal Democrats trying to abolish the agency, arguing that President Donald Trump is abusing it for political gain.
"We should not abolish ICE, but we need to make sure they're focusing on their highest priority - targeting violent criminals and drug traffickers, not families and refugees," Baldwin said in a statement. "This is yet another example of why we need comprehensive immigration reform to fix our broken system."
Earlier Monday, Pocan said at a news conference that he was introducing a bill to do away with ICE because Trump was misusing it. Pocan, who succeeded Baldwin in representing the Madison area in Congress, wants to create a commission to recommend how to replace it or move its duties to other existing agencies.
The idea has support among some liberal Democrats but conservatives have said it shows Democrats are weak on enforcing immigration laws. Baldwin's Republican challengers, state Sen. Leah Vukmir and Delafield management consultant Kevin Nicholson, oppose efforts to abolish ICE.
Vukmir's campaign manager Jess Ward insinuated that Baldwin was a hypocrite for accepting campaign donations from senators who support eliminating ICE.
"Let's be clear, if this wasn't an election year, everyone knows where Senator Baldwin would stand on eliminating border enforcement," Ward said. "Attempts by Democrats to gut border enforcement and call it reform is dishonest and dangerous."
Nicholson's campaign spokeswoman Ronica Cleary said: "Activities to smuggle humans across the border and endanger lives would no doubt increase under the politics and policies pushed by extremists like Mark Pocan and Tammy Baldwin. ICE officers should be lauded and praised for their brave efforts to keep our borders safe."
Pocan, speaking before Baldwin put out her comment, defended his push to abolish ICE saying Trump has turned it into "the president's deportation force."
"Whether people are saying reform it or they're saying abolish it, what we're all saying is right now, ICE is being misused by the president in a way that makes it unable to function as it needs to," Pocan said.
The White House last week tweeted criticism of Pocan, asking if his support of eliminating ICE means he supports human smuggling.
Pocan said Monday that criticism is "either stupid or intentionally misleading" because border patrol is not ICE's mission. Pocan said he does not support an open border policy.