- House lawmakers are expected to vote on Tuesday on DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas’ impeachment.
- Only once in history has the House impeached a Cabinet official.
- Some Republicans have cautioned that impeaching Mayorkas would establish a dangerous precedent.
House lawmakers are expected to vote Tuesday on the controversial move to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, raising the possibility that a Cabinet official will be impeached for the first time in nearly 150 years.
Republicans have a slim majority. If all lawmakers show up and vote, the GOP can afford just three defections. Already, Republican Reps. Ken Buck of Colorado and Tom McClintock have said they will vote no. Neither of their positions is too surprising given that both of them have long had reservations about the case.
After more than 14 hours, the House Homeland Security Committee last week approved two articles against Mayorkas. They charge him with a refusal to comply with the law and for breaking the public’s trust. The only step remaining would then be a full vote on the House floor, which could happen as soon as next week.
Rep. Mark Green, the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, emphasized at the time that Republicans are not impeaching Mayorkas solely based on disagreeing with the Biden administration’s immigration policy.
“We cannot allow this man to remain in office any longer,” Green said during his opening statement for the hearing that began at 10 am Tuesday morning. “The time for accountability is now.”
Nonetheless, even some Republican lawmakers have raised concerns over whether impeaching Mayorkas would set a dangerous precedent for future impeachments that would allow Congress to use one of its most powerful actions to simply punish federal officials who are viewed as being bad at their jobs.
Mayorkas himself issued a blistering response to 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 wrote.
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. 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 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, reiterated his previous plea that House Republicans focus their efforts instead on the bipartisan immigration talks.
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?
The House vote is the final step for that chamber. If they vote to impeach Mayorkas, he will likely face a Senate trial.
Is this guaranteed to happen?
Not necessarily. Buck and McClintock’s opposition means GOP leadership will face a close vote.