UNITED STATES NEWS

House GOP takes party-line vote toward Mayorkas impeachment as border becomes campaign issue

Jan 31, 2024, 6:15 AM | Updated: 6:19 am

Mayorkas impeachment...

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas testifies on Capitol Hill, Nov. 8, 2023, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — House Republicans voted along party lines early Wednesday to move toward impeaching Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas for a “willful and systematic” refusal to enforce immigration laws as border security becomes a top 2024 election issue.

The Homeland Security Committee debated all day Tuesday and well into the night before recommending two articles of impeachment against Mayorkas to the full House, a rare charge against a Cabinet official unseen in nearly 150 years, as Republicans make GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump’s hard-line deportation approach to immigration their own.

The committee Republicans voted in favor, while the Democrats unified against, 18-15.

“We cannot allow this man to remain in office any longer,” said Chairman Mark Green, R-Tenn.

The impeachment articles charge that Mayorkas “refused to comply with Federal immigration laws” amid a record surge of migrants and that he has “breached the public trust” in his claims to Congress that the U.S.-Mexico border is secure.

The full House could vote on Mayorkas’ impeachment as soon as next week. If approved, the charges would go to the Senate for a trial, though senators may first convene a special committee for consideration.

With an unusual personal appeal, Mayorkas — who is deep in Senate talks on a border security package — wrote in a letter to the committee that it should be working with the Biden administration to update the nation’s “broken and outdated” immigration laws for the 21st century, an era of record global migration.

“We need a legislative solution and only Congress can provide it,” Mayorkas wrote in the pointed letter to the panel’s chairman.

Rarely has a Cabinet member faced impeachment’s bar of “high crimes and misdemeanors,” and Democrats on the panel dismissed the proceedings as a stunt and a sham that could set a chilling precedent for other civil servants snared in policy disputes by lawmakers who disagree with the president’s approach.

“This is a terrible day for the committee, the United States, the Constitution and our great country,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, the committee’s ranking Democrat.

Referring to Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan, Thompson said the “MAGA-led impeachment of Secretary Mayorkas is a baseless sham.”

The House’s proceedings against Mayorkas have created an oddly split-screen Capitol Hill, as the Senate works deliberately with the secretary on a bipartisan border security package that is now on life support.

The package being negotiated by the senators with Mayorkas could emerge as the most consequential bipartisan immigration proposal in a decade. Or it could collapse in political failure as Republicans, and some Democrats, run from the effort.

Trump, on the campaign trail and in private talks, has tried to squelch the deal. “I’d rather have no bill than a bad bill,” Trump said over the weekend in Las Vegas.

President Joe Biden, in his own campaign remarks in South Carolina, said if Congress sends him a bill with emergency authority he’ll “shut down the border right now” to get migration under control.

“I’ve done all I can do,” Biden told reporters Tuesday before departing for a campaign-related trip to Florida. “Give me the power” through legislation, which he said is something he’s asked “from the very day I got in office.”

The Republicans are focused on the secretary’s handling of the southern border, which has experienced a increasing number of migrants over the past year, many seeking asylum in the U.S., at a time when drug cartels are using the border with Mexico to traffic people and ship deadly fentanyl into the states.

Rep, Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., a Trump ally often mentioned as a possible vice presidential pick, called it an “invasion.”

Republicans contend that the Biden administration and Mayorkas either got rid of policies in place under Trump that had controlled migration or enacted policies of their own that encouraged migrants from around the world to come to the U.S. illegally via the southern border.

House Speaker Mike Johnson said Biden and Mayorkas have “created a catastrophe” on the border, and he criticized the emerging Senate package. The GOP leader said the president is now trying to turn the blame back on Congress for failing to update immigration laws.

The Republicans also accused Mayorkas of lying to Congress, pointing to comments about the border being secure or about vetting of Afghans airlifted to the U.S. after military withdrawal from their country.

“It’s high time” for impeachment, said Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, who called Mayorkas the “architect” of the border problems. “He has what’s coming to him.”

The House impeachment hearings against Mayorkas sprinted ahead in January while the Republicans’ separate impeachment inquiry into Biden over the business dealings over his son Hunter Biden dragged.

Democrats argue that Mayorkas is acting under his legal authorities at the department and that the criticisms against him do not rise to the level of impeachment.

House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York called the proceedings a “political stunt” ordered up by Trump and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., a Trump ally, who pushed the resolution forward.

During the hearing, Rep. Robert Garcia, D-Calif., pointed to Trump’s comments echoing Adolf Hitler that immigrants are “poisoning the blood” of the U.S. and to his proposals for militarizing the border as extreme, arguing the impeachment proceedings were “all about trying to get Donald Trump re-elected.”

Debate dragged into the night as Democrats tried and failed to amend the resolution.

Mayorkas never testified on his own behalf during the rushed impeachment proceedings — he and the committee couldn’t agree on a date — but in his letter he drew on his own background as a child brought to the U.S. by his parents fleeing Cuba and on his career spent prosecuting criminals.

“Your false accusations do not rattle me and do not divert me” from public service, he wrote.

Green, the Republican committee chair, disparaged Mayorkas’s letter as an “11th-hour response” to the committee that was “inadequate and unbecoming of a Cabinet secretary.”

It’s unclear if Republicans will have the support from their ranks to go through with the impeachment vote in the full House, especially with their slim majority and with Democrats expected to vote against it.

Last year, eight House Republicans voted to shelve the impeachment resolution proposed by Greene, though many of them have since signaled being open to it. The committee approved a revised version.

Legal experts, including Jonathan Turley and Alan Dershowitz, have said the criticisms of Mayorkas do not rise to impeachable offenses.

If the House does agree to impeach Mayorkas, the charges would next to go the Senate. In 1876, the House impeached Defense Secretary William Belknap over kickbacks in government contracts, but the Senate acquitted him in a trial.

This is an updated version of a story originally published Jan. 30, 2024.

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House GOP takes party-line vote toward Mayorkas impeachment as border becomes campaign issue