UNITED STATES NEWS

Senate dismisses two articles of impeachment against Homeland Security secretary, ends trial

Apr 17, 2024, 1:55 PM | Updated: 7:47 pm

Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas arrives to testify before a Senate subcommittee o...

Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas arrives to testify before a Senate subcommittee on April 10, 2024. The Senate dismissed all impeachment charges against Mayorkas on April 17, 2024, ending the House Republican push to remove him from office. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

(Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate dismissed all impeachment charges against Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Wednesday, ending the House Republican push to remove the Cabinet secretary from office over his handling of the the U.S.-Mexico border and shutting down his trial before arguments even began.

Senators voted to dismiss both articles of impeachment and end the proceedings, with Democrats arguing that the articles were unconstitutional. The first article charged Mayorkas with “willful and systemic refusal to comply” with immigration law and second article charged him with a “breach of trust” for saying the border was secure. The votes were 51-48 and 51-49, both along party lines.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the House Republicans’ charges failed to meet “the high standard of high crimes and misdemeanors” and could set a dangerous precedent.

“For the sake of the Senate’s integrity and to protect impeachment for those rare cases we truly need it, senators should dismiss today’s charges,” said Schumer, D-N.Y., as he opened Wednesday’s session.

Senate Republicans had argued for a full impeachment trial after the House narrowly voted in February to impeach Mayorkas for his handling of the border, stating in the two articles that he “willfully and systematically” refused to enforce immigration laws.

An outright dismissal of House Republicans’ prosecution of Mayorkas, with no chance to argue the case, is an embarrassing defeat for House Republicans and embattled House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., who made the impeachment a priority. And it is likely to resonate politically for both Republicans and Democrats in a presidential election year when border security has been a top issue.

Republicans argue that President Joe Biden has been weak on the border as arrests for illegal crossings skyrocketed to more than 2 million people during the last two years of his term, though they have fallen from a record high of 250,000 in December amid heightened enforcement in Mexico. Democrats say that instead of impeaching Mayorkas, Republicans should have accepted a bipartisan Senate compromise aimed at reducing the number of migrants who come into the U.S. illegally.

House impeachment managers delivered the charges to the Senate on Tuesday, standing in the well of the Senate and reading them aloud to a captive audience. But they did not get a chance to present the case before the Senate dismissed it.

The historic nature of the trial — the first time in nearly 150 years that a Cabinet secretary was impeached — contrasted with the almost routine feel of the proceedings after senators have sat through two previous impeachment trials against former President Donald Trump in 2020 and 2021. And with a quick dismissal almost inevitable, the Senate never even set up the chamber for the occasion, which usually includes tables on each side for the impeachment managers and defense lawyers.

Still, there was a bit of the traditional pomp. As the trial began, senators approached the front of the Senate in groups of four to sign an oath book that is stored in the National Archives.

Schumer called for the votes to dismiss the two charges after Republicans rejected a proposed agreement for Senate debate time and several votes on GOP objections. Missouri Sen. Eric Schmitt stood in the chamber and said Republicans wouldn’t accept Schumer’s offer because Democrats were “bulldozing 200 years of precedent” on impeachments by trying to dismiss the trial.

Angry Republicans called for several votes to delay the inevitable final outcome, but none of them passed as Democrats and three Independents held together.

Frustrated, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said “history will not judge this moment well.”

“This process must not be abused,” McConnell said. “It must not be short-circuited.”

At the same time, Republicans similarly moved to dismiss former President Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial in 2021, weeks after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. All but five GOP senators — including McConnell — voted to end the trial, arguing it was unconstitutional because Trump had already left office.

After Democrats dismissed the charges, Johnson and members of his House GOP leadership team said in a joint statement that “by voting unanimously to bypass their constitutional responsibility, every single Senate Democrat has issued their full endorsement of the Biden Administration’s dangerous open border policies.”

Even if the Senate had held a trial, Republicans would not have been able to win the support of the two-thirds of the Senate that is needed to convict and remove Mayorkas from office — Democrats control the Senate, 51-49, and they remained united against the impeachment effort. Not one House Democrat supported it, either.

Even some Republicans questioned the impeachment effort from the start. Utah Sen. Mitt Romney had said for weeks that he was considering voting with Democrats to dismiss the charges but ultimately voted with his own party. After the votes, he said he does not believe the charges rise to high crimes but he did not want to dismiss them because “it was important to engage in some level of debate.”

Mayorkas, who was in New York on Wednesday to launch a campaign for children’s online safety, reiterated that he’s focused on the work of his department. “The Senate is going to do what the Senate considers to be appropriate as that proceeds,” he said. “I am here in New York City on Wednesday morning fighting online sexual exploitation and abuse. I’m focused on our mission.”

Department spokeswoman Mia Ehrenberg said after the votes that the Senate’s decision to end the trial “proves definitively that there was no evidence or Constitutional grounds to justify impeachment.”

Johnson delayed sending the articles to the Senate for weeks while both chambers finished work on government funding legislation and took a two-week recess. Johnson had said he would send them to the Senate last week, but he punted again after Senate Republicans said they wanted more time to prepare.

At a hearing with Mayorkas on Tuesday about President Joe Biden’s budget request for the department, some of the House impeachment managers previewed the arguments they would have made.

Tennessee Rep. Mark Green, the chairman of the House Homeland Security panel, told the secretary he has a duty under the law to control and guard U.S. borders, and “during your three years as secretary, you have failed to fulfill this oath. You have refused to comply with the laws passed by Congress, and you have breached the public trust.”

Mayorkas defended the department’s efforts but said the nation’s immigration system is “fundamentally broken, and only Congress can fix it.”

The impeachment trial was the third in five years. Democrats impeached Trump twice, once over his dealings with Ukraine and the second time in the days after the Capitol attack. Trump was acquitted by the Senate both times.

Schumer said the charges against Mayorkas did not compare to those against Trump and were engineered to help the former president as he runs again this year. He said the Republican charges were policy disputes, not high crimes, and it was important to set a precedent.

“Secretary Mayorkas has not been accused of treason or accepting bribes or unlawfully attacking our elections or anything of the sort,” Schumer said. “He did not blackmail a foreign power to dig dirt on a political opponent. Nor did he incite a violent mob to wage an insurrection against the peaceful transfer of power.”

He called the Republican case “an illegitimate and profane abuse of the U.S. Constitution.”

Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat, acknowledged that dismissing the trial was “a different Senate process,” but said the “risk of normalizing what the House did is bigger than the risk of establishing a new precedent in the Senate.”

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Senate dismisses two articles of impeachment against Homeland Security secretary, ends trial