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House committee holds first impeachment hearing for DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas

Republican efforts to impeach Mayorkas
Breaking down Republican efforts to impeach DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas 04:25

Washington — House Republicans moved forward with their effort to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas for his handling of the situation along the U.S.-Mexico border, holding their first hearing on the matter Wednesday. 

"Today is a solemn occasion as this committee begins official impeachment proceedings in the matter of Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and his handling of America's borders since taking office in February 2021," GOP Rep. Mark Green of Tennessee, the committee's chairman said. "Our evidence makes it clear: Secretary Mayorkas is the architect of the devastation that we have witnessed for nearly three years."

House Republicans argue that Mayorkas has failed to perform his duties and neglected to act in accordance with laws passed by Congress. The impeachment push also comes as the GOP has made border security a central theme ahead of the 2024 elections, seeking to capitalize on the issue after an unprecedented number of migrants crossed the southern border at the end of last year. 

Attorneys general from Montana, Oklahoma and Missouri testified at Wednesday's hearing to highlight the impact of migration on their states under Mayorkas' leadership. The secretary did not attend. The Department of Homeland Security called the impeachment effort "baseless and pointless" and called on Congress to reform the nation's immigration laws.

The Mayorkas impeachment hearing

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas speaks at the State Department in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 13, 2022.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas speaks at the State Department in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 13, 2022. OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images

Green argued in his opening statement that impeachment was designed not only to remove officials "engaged in criminal behavior," but also those "guilty of such gross incompetence that their conduct had endangered their fellow Americans, betrayed the public trust or represented a neglect of duty." He suggested that Mayorkas' handling of the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border had met the standard.

Meanwhile, Democratic lawmakers decried the impeachment effort, calling it a political exercise with no reasonable basis. 

"It is now campaign season and Republicans recently rolled out their impeachment proceedings against the secretary like a pre-planned, predetermined political stunt it is," said Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, the top Democrat on the committee. "This is not a legitimate impeachment."

Thompson said House Republicans are pushing the impeachment inquiry "to distract from their own failures," while highlighting that some are opposing funding for the border in the White House's supplemental funding request despite their push to enhance border security.

"Democrats want to strengthen border security. We want to keep fentanyl off the street. We want to keep communities safe," Thompson said. "This circus side-show impeachment does none of that."

The attorneys general railed against Mayorkas' leadership on Wednesday, testifying that the situation has grown dire in their states under the secretary's tenure, attributing local drug and trafficking incidents to the flow of migrants at the southern border.

"The Trump administration overcame fierce opposition at every turn and was able to gain control of our southern border as no previous administration could. But all of that progress has been destroyed," Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen said. "Secretary Mayorkas is the architect of that destruction."

Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey accused Mayorkas of facilitating an "orchestrated lack of enforcement" of the country's immigration laws, which he said has led to the impeachment proceedings. 

"Rather than find ways to secure our border, Secretary Mayorkas has been busy enacting policies to make it easier to enter our country illegally," Bailey said, adding that states are "forced to bear the enormous cost of Secretary Mayorkas' failure."

Frank Bowman, a professor at the University of Missouri's law school, appeared before the committee at the invitation of Democratic members. He stressed that impeachment "is not supposed to be a routine tool to resolve ordinary public policy debates."

Bowman explained that the Constitution defines impeachable conduct as treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors, and argued that policy disputes between Congress and a Cabinet secretary do not rise to that level.

"The most commonly encountered categories of impeachable conduct are official corruption, abuse of power, betrayal of the nation's foreign policy interests and subversion of the Constitution," Bowman said. "There is no serious allegation of which I'm aware that the secretary has done any of those things."

Republicans' impeachment push

The hearing comes after House leaders last year stalled an effort by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene to force a vote on impeaching Mayorkas. The Georgia Republican pulled her impeachment resolution after she said she received assurances from House leaders that her earlier effort would move forward at the committee level. 

Greene's resolution accused Mayorkas of violating federal law and the Constitution by failing to "maintain operational control of the border" and prevent an "invasion." 

Some Republicans voiced doubt about impeachment at the time, saying Mayorkas' actions did not amount to impeachable offenses. Others said they wanted to wait for the committee's investigation to be completed before holding an impeachment vote. 

Green, the committee chairman, said last week that the panel recently concluded a nearly yearlong investigation into the situation at the border. 

"Our investigation made clear that this crisis finds its foundation in Secretary Mayorkas' decision-making and refusal to enforce the laws passed by Congress, and that his failure to fulfill his oath of office demands accountability," he said in a statement announcing the hearing. 

House Speaker Mike Johnson of Louisiana led a delegation of more than 60 Republicans to the border last week. He called the trip an "eye opener," saying they got a "first-hand look at the damage and chaos the border catastrophe is causing in all of our communities." 

Even if the GOP-controlled House impeaches Mayorkas, it is highly unlikely that he would be convicted in a trial in the Senate, which has a Democratic majority and would require a vote of two-thirds of senators to remove him from office. Still, his impeachment would be historic, given that he would be the first Cabinet official to be impeached in almost 150 years. 

During a visit to the border on Monday, Mayorkas called on Congress to take action to fix the nation's immigration system and said accusations that he has not enforced the nation's laws "could not be further from the truth." 

"There is nothing I take more seriously than our responsibility to uphold the law," Mayorkas said, later adding that "the majority of all migrants encountered at the Southwest border throughout this administration have been removed, returned or expelled — a majority of them." 

Mayorkas has been part of talks between the White House and a small bipartisan group of senators who have been negotiating a potential deal on immigration policy and border security. 

In a memo released ahead of the impeachment hearing, the Department of Homeland Security pointed to those talks and contrasted them with the impeachment effort in the House.

"After decades of Congressional inaction on our broken immigration laws, Secretary Mayorkas and a bipartisan group of Senators are working hard to try and find real solutions to address these challenges," the DHS memo said. "Instead of working in a bipartisan way to fix our broken immigration laws, the House Majority is wasting time on baseless and pointless political attacks by trying to impeach Secretary Mayorkas." 

Nikole Killion and Nicole Sganga contributed reporting. 

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