House Republicans Impeach Alejandro Mayorkas by a Single Vote

Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas speaks during the daily news briefing at the White House in March 2021.

House Republicans moved in historic fashion and impeached Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas by a single vote on Tuesday night, succeeding on their second try in punishing the steward of President Biden’s immigration policy.

The unprecedented and partisan resolution – which cleared the House over opposition from Democrats and three GOP members – may not go very far in the Senate, as some Republicans in the upper chamber do not believe that Mayorkas’s actions clear the bar as the “high crimes and misdemeanors” necessary for conviction. But Mayorkas is the first sitting Cabinet secretary to be impeached, and some bipartisan and legal observers worry that the most serious tool the U.S. Constitution provides to rein in a public official is being misused as partisan weapon.

There was some uncertainty before the vote began Tuesday evening, with House GOP leaders prepared to punt the two articles of impeachment against Mayorkas if they didn’t have a majority. Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) instead avoided another embarrassing spectacle, scoring a narrow win after enough lawmakers appeared in the chamber following their return to Washington amid worries about a major snowstorm blanketing the Northeast.

Reps. Mike Gallagher (Wis.), Ken Buck (Colo.) and Tom McClintock (Calif.), the same trio of Republicans who opposed impeaching Mayorkas last week, once again voted to oppose their party’s measure.

Johnson released a statement following the vote that emphasized Congress’s “constitutional obligation” to impeach Mayorkas and claimed that Republicans, who have called for the secretary’s impeachment since he assumed office, treated the process seriously. But despite the historic nature of Tuesday’s vote, senators have cast doubt on the charges.

Mia Ehrenberg, a Department of Homeland Security spokesperson, criticized House Republicans, saying in a statement that they were “trampling on the Constitution for political gain rather than working to solve the serious challenges at our border.”

“Without a shred of evidence or legitimate Constitutional grounds, and despite bipartisan opposition, House Republicans have falsely smeared a dedicated public servant who has spent more than 20 years enforcing our laws and serving our country,” Ehrenberg added.

The office of Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced in a statement that the House GOP’s impeachment managers will present the articles of impeachment to the Senate once senators return to Washington at the end of the month.

Senate President Pro Tempore Patty Murray (D-Wash.) will preside over the trial, and 11 appointed GOP members will serve as impeachment managers.

Mayorkas’s impeachment is the culmination of increasingly bitter partisan politics in Congress, none more so than on the issue of immigration. House Republicans, under pressure from former president Donald Trump, have filed a number of articles of impeachment against Biden administration officials, and a formal impeachment inquiry was launched against Biden last fall.

Impeachment, a tool intended to be used rarely, has now been deployed at one stage or another four times in five years – for two presidents and a Cabinet secretary. After acquittals in 2019 and 2020, Trump has demanded that congressional Republicans pursue political retribution on his behalf. In 1876, William Belknap, the secretary of war for President Ulysses S. Grant, resigned after he was accused of corruption but was impeached by the House anyway.

Democrats have argued that Republicans have abused the tool to settle policy differences, highlighting the hypocrisy of trying to oust Mayorkas for supposedly neglecting to secure the southern border while simultaneously killing a bipartisan package under negotiation in the Senate that aimed to improve border security

On Tuesday night, House Republicans pulled off what they could not last week, when they fell one vote short of impeaching Mayorkas for what they allege is his gross mismanagement of the large influx of migrants at the border.

Last week, the promise of political retribution didn’t materialize after Rep. Al Green (D-Tex.) left his hospital bed to cast his vote, leaving Republicans one vote shy of the majority needed to impeach Mayorkas. At the time, Johnson, who has struggled to corral his razor-thin majority, called the failed vote a “setback.”

Republicans have homed in on the country’s immigration quagmire as a cudgel against Biden in his reelection campaign. Polls show that Americans are dissatisfied with how the administration is handling the issue. But Democrats hope they’ve gained headway after Trump lampooned the bipartisan immigration bill, which paired border reforms with foreign aid to Israel and Ukraine, causing many Republicans in Congress to turn their backs on it. The Senate passed a stand-alone foreign aid package, but House Republicans are refusing to take it up because border reforms aren’t included.

As the proceedings against Mayorkas have progressed, opposition to the two articles of impeachment – “willful and systemic refusal to comply with the law” and breach of the public trust – has grown louder. Gallagher joined Buck and McClintock last week to vote down impeaching Mayorkas on the grounds that it would open a “Pandora’s box.”

Echoing the consensus among legal experts on both sides of the aisle, Gallagher argued in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that the “manifest incompetence” outlined in the first article of impeachment “doesn’t rise to the level of high crimes or misdemeanors.”

Some Republican senators have criticized the use of what was designed to be a rarely deployed constitutional instrument as a weapon in partisan warfare. Other conservative voices, including the Fraternal Order of Police, weighed in on the matter last week to offer support for Mayorkas, and a bipartisan trio of former homeland security secretaries called on Johnson to pull down the vote.

Over the weekend, Mayorkas called the allegations against him “baseless” in an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” and he put the onus on Congress to address “a broken system” by legislating.