House Republicans failed on Tuesday evening to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, an embarrassing failure for GOP leadership.
The Republicans’ small majority returned to bite them once more. Wisconsin Republican Rep. Mike Gallagher joined Republican Reps. Ken Buck of Colorado and Tom McClintock of California in opposing the measure.The final vote was 214-216. Rep. Blake Moore, a Utah Republican, also voted “no,” but changed his mind at the last minute, allowing GOP leaders to potentially bring up the issue again. All Democrats voted against the impeachment resolution.
Republicans may return to the topic quickly. Buck informed reporters that he was told House Majority Leader Steve Scalise would return to the chamber on Wednesday. Scalise has missed votes while undergoing cancer treatment.
The Republican Party has attempted to make Mayorkas the face of the present border conflict between the United States and Mexico.
Last Monday, after more than 14 hours, the House Homeland Security Committee approved two articles criticising Mayorkas. They accuse him of refusing to comply with the law and violating the public’s trust. The only stage left would be a full vote on the House floor, which could take place as early as next week.
Rep. Mark Green, the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, stated at the time that Republicans are not impeaching Mayorkas just because they disagree with the Biden administration’s immigration policy.
“We cannot allow this man to remain in office any longer,” Green said in his opening statement for the hearing, which began at 10 a.m. on Tuesday. “The time for accountability is now.”
Nonetheless, several Republican members have expressed concerns that impeaching Mayorkas would establish a dangerous precedent for future impeachments, allowing Congress to use one of its most powerful tools to simply punish federal officials who are perceived to be bad at their jobs.
Mayorkas slammed Green ahead of the hearing.
“I assure you that your false accusations do not rattle me and do not divert me from the law enforcement and broader public service mission to which I have devoted most of my career and to which I remain devoted,” the secretary stated in the letter.
Why are Republicans attacking Mayorkas?
As Homeland Security secretary, Mayorkas oversees a vast agency that includes U.S. Customs and Border Protection. As a result, the GOP has tried to make him the poster boy for what they view as Biden’s failed immigration policies.
House Speaker Mike Johnson, who recently led a Republican delegation to the border, has said the situation is “a humanitarian catastrophe” with major national security concerns. Rep. Mark Green, who chairs the Homeland Security Committee, has argued that Mayorkas has violated his oath of office. Green has gone as far as to say, “Hamas can walk just right in.” (The issue of terrorism is a lot more complicated, as you’ll see below.)
Politically, Republicans also view the issue as a winner. A CBS poll released over the weekend found that views of Biden’s handling of immigration are at an all-time low. Democratic mayors and governors have also complained to the White House in the wake of Republicans sending waves of migrants to their cities.
What is the situation at the border like?
It’s undeniable that there is a crisis at the border. 2023 ended with a record number of encounters—10,000 people per day along the border.
“The numbers we are seeing now are unprecedented,” Troy Miller, the acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, told The Washington Post.
US Customs and Border Protection says more than 2.3 million migrants have been released into the US at the southern border under Biden’s watch, The Post reported. Republicans often cite the more than 6 million people that have been taken into custody, a much different measure.
There is some debate about how the current situation compares. Politifact pointed out that there are some caveats to comparing the record-high influx under Biden to the past. The context is important, especially when comparing Trump and Biden administration data, which measures “encounters” as opposed to “apprehensions.” Immigration patterns, including who is trying to come into the US and how often they attempt to cross the border, have also changed. As NPR previously pointed out, the number of migrants making repeat attempts has skyrocketed. This means that when it comes to encounters, a single person could be responsible for multiple encounters if they repeatedly try to enter the US.
As for the terrorism claims, Republicans are basing their fears on the terrorism watchlist. Once a more narrow set of names, as CBS News detailed, the list has become a sweeping database that now includes roughly 2 million people. Johnson and other Republicans have pointed to the 312 migrants (it’s now 326) out of the more than 6 million that federal officials have caught from October 2020 to now that match the names of people on the list. As The New York Times noted, just because someone matches a name on the list doesn’t mean they are a guaranteed terrorist. The Homeland Security Department notes that, for all these reasons, apprehending a migrant on the watchlist is extremely rare.
What is the White House saying?
The White House has stated that the US immigration system has been “broken for decades.” Officials have frequently stated that, as Republicans want to impeach Mayorkas, he is working with senators from both parties on what would be the most significant improvements to US immigration policy in years.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security stated that there is “no valid basis” for impeaching Mayorkas.
According to DHS spokesman Mia Ehrenberg, the House majority is wasting time and money on a pointless political exercise that has already received negative feedback from members of both parties and failed in a bipartisan vote.
Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, the ranking Democrat on the Homeland Security Committee, restated his previous request that House Republicans focus their efforts on bipartisan immigration discussions.
Has a Cabinet secretary been impeached before?
In its entire history, the House has only ever impeached one Cabinet secretary: former Secretary of War William Belknap under the Grant administration. Lawmakers accused Belknap of taking bribes to finance a lavish lifestyle while living on a meager government salary. In the face of his likely ouster, the former Civil War general rushed to the White House to hand President Ulysses S. Grant his resignation.
The House still impeached Belknap, though he was acquitted during a Senate trial. The core of Belknap’s defence was that he was technically a private citizen both at the time of his impeachment (by just minutes) and during his months-long trial. If that sounds familiar, it’s because former President Donald Trump and most Senate Republicans made a similar defence during Trump’s trial following the January 6, 2021, Capitol riot.
What happens next?
House GOP leaders could bring up the impeachment resolution again. It’s unclear if or when that will happen.
Is this guaranteed to happen?
Potentially. If only Moore were to change his vote, the GOP would have the numbers needed to pass Mayorkas’ impeachment. But multiple lawmakers from both parties have missed recent votes due to health reasons. It’s also unclear if there will be a will to return to the topic given that even some Republican senators have questioned the case against Mayorkas.