House Republicans voted early Wednesday to advance an impeachment case against Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to the full chamber, moving one step closer to impeaching the first Cabinet member in almost 150 years.
In an 18-15 vote along party lines following a marathon meeting, members of the House Homeland Security Committee advanced two articles of impeachment against Mayorkas, accusing him of “willful and systemic refusal to comply with the law” and breach of the public trust. Democrats repeatedly asserted during the hearing that Republicans have no constitutional basis to impeach Mayorkas, and they noted that GOP lawmakers have struggled in two recent hearings to detail clear evidence of high crimes and misdemeanors.
Republican leaders are aiming to bring the issue to the House floor next week. Even if the full House impeaches Mayorkas, he is unlikely to be convicted in a trial in the Democratic-led Senate.
Democrats criticized the impeachment proceedings as politically motivated, pointing out that GOP lawmakers were trying to oust Mayorkas for supposedly neglecting to secure the southern border, while at the same time opposing a bipartisan package under negotiation in the Senate that would seek to improve border security.
Several hours into the hearing on Tuesday, Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-Tex.) suggested that Democrats’ remarks would have little impact on the ultimate outcome.
“One of the most difficult things about Congress is it’s filled with nothing but lawyers, and they’ll talk all day about this, that or the other, which is … frustrating to many Americans,” Gonzales said. “This is what’s going to happen. The House of Representatives is going to impeach Secretary Mayorkas, and there is absolutely nothing anyone can do to stop it. That’s going to happen.”
Mayorkas did not appear at the hearing but vigorously defended his record in a six-page letter Tuesday morning to Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mark Green (R-Tenn.) that detailed his lengthy career in public service and disputed the GOP’s accusations that he has avoided their oversight requests.
“We have provided Congress and your Committee hours of testimony, thousands of documents, hundreds of briefings, and much more information that demonstrates quite clearly how we are enforcing the law,” Mayorkas wrote.
His responsiveness to the House’s oversight requests would not waver, however “baseless” the proceedings, he added.
“I assure you that your false accusations do not rattle me and do not divert me from the law enforcement and broader public service to which I remain devoted,” Mayorkas wrote.
In a statement Wednesday morning, House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) praised the committee for what he described as “a thorough and exhaustive investigation into Secretary Mayorkas’ failed leadership of the department and his role in the ongoing border crisis.”
House Republicans announced the two articles of impeachment against Mayorkas on Sunday, after swiftly concluding two public impeachment hearings this month without Mayorkas’s in-person testimony or testimony from any fact witnesses.
In the first article of impeachment, Republicans argue that Mayorkas has failed to enforce U.S. immigration policies at the nation’s border, disregarded laws passed by Congress and ignored court orders, allowing for a surge of migration at the southern border that has resulted in record highs of illegal crossings in recent months.
“Secretary Mayorkas has put his political preferences above following the law,” Green said in his opening remarks Tuesday. He later described the letter Mayorkas had sent him Tuesday morning as “inadequate and unbecoming of a Cabinet secretary.”
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.), who later put forth an amendment to remove the first article of impeachment, defended Mayorkas by pointing out that Congress has never provided the resources to detain all undocumented migrants, and that all homeland security secretaries have had to use “prosecutorial discretion” to release some migrants. Rep. Lou Correa (D-Calif.) also later introduced an amendment to strike the second article.
“I can’t for the life of me see why my colleagues do not understand that you are dealing clearly with the issue of a policy decision and a very wise secretary that is trying to do his job by protecting us in the narrow way that he’s allowed to do so,” Jackson Lee said.
The second charge, breach of the public trust, accuses Mayorkas of making false statements and obstructing oversight of the Department of Homeland Security. After little public action in the probe for several months, the Homeland Security Committee’s investigation came to a head this month after Green invited Mayorkas to testify at the committee’s second impeachment hearing.
Mayorkas responded that he had a scheduling conflict and offered to testify on another date, but Green declined the offer and moved forward with the hearing. It was held on a day Mayorkas was preparing to host a delegation of Mexican officials to discuss migration issues at the U.S.-Mexico border. He also was spotted on the other side of the Capitol, negotiating with the Senate on a border security deal.
Shortly thereafter, Green issued a letter outlining 31 requests to the department that he said remained “partially or entirely unsatisfied,” signaling an obstruction charge to come.
Homeland Security officials have noted that Mayorkas has already testified before Congress more than any other Cabinet member — 27 times in 35 months — and that the department has provided 90 witnesses for committee hearings since the start of the Biden administration, along with more than 13,000 pages of documents and data in response to Green’s requests alone.
Green told reporters Tuesday that it did not matter if the Senate ultimately did not convict Mayorkas.
“I’m doing what is, I think, my duty, and votes will be what votes are. I feel pretty good,” Green said. “The same question gets asked. … ‘Are you just doing something that’s going to wind up being fruitless anyway because of the Senate?’ Well, fine, if that’s what they choose to do, but I have a duty to do.”
Mayorkas appeared before the committee in November. But threats to impeach him have loomed since House Republicans assumed the majority, serving as a rallying cry for hard-line lawmakers such as Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), who has made repeated efforts to force an impeachment vote.
Constitutional experts and Democrats have argued that Republicans are abusing a tool adopted by the framers of the Constitution to protect the country from despotic leadership to instead address a policy dispute. Two law professors who testified before the committee this month both stated that they did not see a constitutional basis for impeachment.
“Policy differences are not impeachable,” said Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.) in his opening statement Tuesday, before repeating the sentiment from a constitutional scholar who testified before the committee this month and argued that no other branch of government has more power to address the crisis at the border than Congress.
In remarks during the committee hearing Tuesday, Rep. Dan Goldman (D-N.Y.) noted the irony of Republicans trying to impeach Mayorkas for neglecting his duties while the secretary has been actively negotiating with a bipartisan group of senators on border security legislation for two months.
Goldman was referring to a bipartisan Senate deal that would tie funding for Ukraine to border policy changes pushed by Republicans. After former president Donald Trump voiced opposition to the package, however, several House and Senate Republicans have said they would not support the measure.
Trump, who is running for reelection and who decisively won the GOP’s first two nominating contests this month, criticized the would-be bipartisan deal as a potential political “gift” to Democrats during an election year. He also bragged about inserting himself into the debate and stymieing efforts to get the bill passed, even though he is not in office.
“The real reason we are here, as we all know, is because Donald Trump wants to run on immigration as his number one issue in the November 2024 election — and you don’t have to take my word for it because he said it himself,” Goldman said Tuesday.
Niha Masih contributed to this report.