House GOP is moving swiftly toward Mayorkas’ impeachment as Senate focuses on a border security deal

Jan 18, 2024, 6:10 PM

House GOP is moving swiftly toward Mayorkas' impeachment as Senate focuses on a border security dea...

Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas speaks at a news conference at the U.S. Border Patrol South Station in Eagle Pass, Texas, Monday, Jan. 8, 2024. (Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman via AP)

(Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman via AP)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Laying the groundwork for the impeachment of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, a House committee on Thursday heard from parents whose tearful testimony sought to link government border policy to their daughters’ deaths and from a law professor warning off the effort.

Committee Chairman Mark Green is heading toward a vote on Mayorkas’ impeachment by the end of the month, setting up action by the full House as soon as February — which would be a first for a Cabinet official in nearly 150 years.

Green, a Tennessee Republican, opened the second impeachment hearing saying “no American is safe” under Mayorkas’ handling of the U.S.-Mexico border, with a record number of illegal crossings. He argued that the secretary’s “egregious misconduct and failure to fulfill his oath of office” are grounds for impeachment.

But the panel’s top Democrat, Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, who has repeatedly insisted policy differences with President Joe Biden are not grounds for impeachment, was backed up by one of the witnesses, Princeton University law professor Deborah Pearlstein.

“Policy differences, no matter how profound, is exactly not what impeachment is for,” Pearlstein said.

House GOP discusses impeaching Mayorkas

She argued that no branch of the U.S. government has more power than the Congress to set policy and that, with years of inaction on border legislation, those powers have “gone unused.”

House Republicans have been eager to impeach Mayorkas since seizing majority control last year, particularly as their efforts to impeach Biden over the business dealings of his son Hunter Biden have come to a standstill.

Accelerating the action in the new year comes as the focus on border security is driving the discussion on the campaign trail. Donald Trump, the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, has vowed to launch the “largest deportation operation” in U.S. history if he returns to the White House.

Biden told congressional leaders this week during a meeting at the White House he wanted a “big border security” bill as he tries to drive Congress to wrap up work on his $110 billion national security package for Ukraine, Israel and other needs, including the U.S.-Mexico border.

The leaders, including Speaker Mike Johnson, emerged cautiously optimistic, as Senate leaders eye a potential vote on that package next week.

What to expect from Mayorkas impeachment discussion

But hours after the White House meeting, Trump signaled his skepticism toward any border deal, “unless we get everything” to shut down the migrants crossings, he wrote on social media.

Mayorkas has been deeply involved in Senate negotiations over the border security package, which would potentially restrict entry into the U.S. and more rapidly deport those people in the country without legal documentation. He has yet to appear before the committee for the impeachment proceedings.

Frustrated that Mayorkas would not appear Thursday, Green said the secretary is “stonewalling” the panel.

But the Department of Homeland Security said Mayorkas told the committee he was unavailable Thursday but would be willing to appear on other dates. The department noted he has appeared before Congress more than any other Biden administration Cabinet member — including 27 times in 35 months.

“This is just the latest example of Committee Republicans’ sham process,” department spokeswoman Mia Ehrenberg said. “It’s abundantly clear that they are not interested in hearing from Secretary Mayorkas since it doesn’t fit into their bad-faith, predetermined and unconstitutional rush to impeach him.”

Testimony highlights danger of fentanyl at the border

One of the witnesses, Josephine Dunn, testified that her daughter, Ashley, died of a fentanyl overdose and said that she traveled from Arizona to appear at the hearing for the opportunity to question Mayorkas.

“Mr. Mayorkas is partly responsible for my daughter’s death,” she said, calling fentanyl a “weapon of mass destruction.” “Whatever he’s doing I hope is more important than that.”

Another parent, Tammy Nobles, had previously testified before Congress.

Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, shared his own family’s experiences with the friends’ lives lost to drugs and said he would bring the mothers’ stories to his next meetings with officials from the U.S. and Mexico.

“This is the personal side of the chaos,” he said. “It has to stop.”

Several Democrats spoke of their own concerns with the situation at the southern border, particularly as drug cartels push the flow of fentanyl, even as they stopped short of blaming Mayorkas for the magnitude of the problem.

“Let’s get it together,” Rep. Lou Correa, D-Calif., implored his colleagues, pointing to the federal funding battles coming this spring. “Surge resources to the border.”

Rep. Delia Ramirez, D-Ill., spoke of the pain of migrants fleeing their home countries and urged Republicans to come to the table with solutions. “Work with us to pass legislation,” she said.

Impeaching a Cabinet secretary has happened only once before in the nation’s history, when the House impeached Defense Secretary William Belknap in 1876 over kickbacks in government contracts.

It’s unclear if Republicans, with only a very narrow majority in the House, will push ahead with impeachment if they don’t have enough support from their ranks. So far, a handful of Republicans have expressed reservations, but some who initially voted to shelve the issue have indicated they are more willing to proceed.

If Mayorkas were to be impeached, the charges would next go to trial in the Senate, where it takes a super-majority to convict. In the Belknap impeachment, he was acquitted.

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House GOP is moving swiftly toward Mayorkas’ impeachment as Senate focuses on a border security deal