- House lawmakers are set to vote again on impeaching Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.
- Only once in history has the House impeached a Cabinet official.
- Last week, the GOP failed to impeach Mayorkas, an embarrassing moment for the party.
House Republicans are expected to vote again Tuesday night on impeaching Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, hoping to put last week’s embarrassing failure behind them.
House Majority Leader Steve Scalise is back in Washington after receiving cancer treatment, which on paper would give the GOP enough votes to impeach the first Cabinet secretary in nearly 150 years. It remains to be seen if any members are absent or change their minds at the last minute.
Last week, Republicans’ slim majority came back to bite them once again. Rep. Mike Gallagher, a Wisconsin Republican, joined Republican Reps. Ken Buck of Colorado and Tom McClintock of California in opposition. The final vote was 214 to 216. Rep. Blake Moore, a Utah Republican, also voted “no,” but he changed his position at the last minute to allow GOP leaders to potentially bring up the impeachment again. All Democrats voted against the impeachment resolution.
The GOP has sought to make Mayorkas the poster boy for the current crisis at the US-Mexico border. Still, Democrats have forced Republicans to grind out the process.
Before the failed floor vote, it took the House Homeland Security Committee more than 14 hours to approve two articles against Mayorkas. They charged him with a refusal to comply with the law and for breaking the public’s trust.
The Department of Homeland Security released a new memo Tuesday morning, pointing to the three dissenters as well as Senate Republicans that have cast doubt on the case against Mayorkas.
“House Republicans’ baseless push to impeach Secretary Mayorkas has already failed once, with bipartisan opposition,” the department wrote in the memo. “If Members of Congress care about our national security, they should listen to their fellow Republicans and stop wasting time on this pointless, unconstitutional impeachment – time that could be spent addressing the issue by advancing bipartisan legislation to fix our broken immigration laws and provide needed resources for border security.”
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 there is a crisis at the border. Last year 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. The watchlist began as a much more limited grouping of names, but as CBS News reported earlier this year it 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 six 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 said the US immigration system has been “broken for decades.” Officials have repeatedly pointed out that at the same time that Republicans are trying to impeach Mayorkas, he is working with senators from both parties on what would be the largest changes to US immigration laws in years.
A Department of Homeland Security spokesperson said in a statement that there is simply “no valid basis” to impeach Mayorkas.
“The House majority is wasting valuable time and taxpayer dollars pursuing a baseless political exercise that has been rejected by members of both parties and already failed on a bipartisan vote,” DHS spokesperson Mia Ehrenberg previously told Business Insider.
Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, the top Democrat on the Homeland Security panel, has repeatedly asked House Republicans to focus their efforts instead on the bipartisan immigration talks. Trump may have permanently scuttled such a deal this Congress after he helped kill a bipartisan border-Ukraine bill.
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 defense was that he was technically a private citizen both at the time of his impeachment (by just minutes) and during his monthslong trial. If that sounds familiar, it’s because former President Donald Trump and most Senate Republicans made a similar defense during Trump’s trial following the January 6, 2021, Capitol riot.
What happens next?
If the House votes to impeach Mayorkas, the next step would be a potential Senate trial. Senators from both parties have little interest in the case, meaning the case could be dismissed relatively quickly.
Is this guaranteed to happen?
Potentially. With Scalise’s return, the GOP should have the numbers to ram through the impeachment. Republican congressional leadership has struggled recently though, meaning nothing should be viewed as a certainty.