Washington — The House Homeland Security Committee voted to advance articles of impeachment against Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas early Wednesday, teeing up a floor vote that could make Mayorkas the first Cabinet secretary to be impeached in nearly 150 years.
After a 15-plus-hour meeting that at times grew contentious, the GOP-led committee voted 18-15 along party lines to advance two impeachment articles to the House floor, where Republicans hold a slim majority. Debate and votes on the articles are expected next week.
House Republicans on Sunday released theagainst President Biden's top immigration official, accusing him of "willful and systemic refusal to comply with the law" and "breach of public trust" over the administration's handling of the migrant crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border.
GOP Rep. Mark Green of Tennessee, the committee's chairman, said the panel had "exhausted all other options" to hold Mayorkas accountable for defying laws passed by Congress.
"We cannot allow this man to remain in office any longer," he said. "The time for accountability is now."
House Democrats characterized the impeachment effort as a "sham" and said the articles lack evidence of high crimes or misdemeanors — the constitutional basis for impeachment.
Tuesday's markup stretched into early Wednesday morning as Democrats sought to delay the meeting by repeatedly requesting recorded votes and raising procedural objections.
"Neither of the impeachment charges the committee will consider today are a high crime or misdemeanor," Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, the top Democrat on the committee, said.
The first impeachment article accuses Mayorkas of repeatedly violating the law by allowing the release of migrants who are awaiting court proceedings. The second article alleges Mayorkas lied to lawmakers about whether the southern border was secure and obstructed congressional oversight of the department.
If he is impeached, Mayorkas is all but certain to be acquitted of the charges in a trial in the Democratic-controlled Senate, where a two-thirds majority would be needed to convict and remove him from office. Still, his impeachment would be historic, since he would be just the second Cabinet official to be impeached in U.S. history, and the first in almost 150 years.
The impeachment push comes as the GOP attempts to make border security a central theme of the 2024 campaign. Many House Republicans, however, also opposethat Mayorkas helped negotiate with a bipartisan group of senators.
The committee meeting
Republicans on the committee refuted the notion that the charges against Mayorkas fail to meet the constitutional threshold for impeachment, arguing that the language could have been interpreted differently at the time of the country's founding. They said that rather than referring to a criminal offense, a "misdemeanor" would have referred to the act of demeaning oneself — essentially setting a lower bar for impeachment.
But Democrats pushed back on the interpretation. Rep. Seth Magaziner of Rhode Island said the Constitution is "very clear that you cannot impeach someone because you think they're doing a bad job."
"If that becomes the new precedent, then the floodgates will open and you will have frivolous impeachments from here until the end of time," Magaziner said.
Democrats also rebuffed the notion that there was no other option than to impeach Mayorkas.
"We've heard a lot from my Republican colleagues today about how this is our only option," Rep. Dan Goldman, a New York Democrat, said. "That's funny. I thought Congress was supposed to pass legislation. I thought Congress was supposed to address the problems in this country through legislation."
Goldman noted that House Republicans are the only faction in Congress who are not supportive of the bipartisan immigration-border security deal, accusing them of trying to sabotage the deal so that former President Donald Trump can run on the issue in the 2024 campaign.
Green countered that House Republicans passed a border security bill known as H.R. 2 last year. The bill had no Democratic votes and was dead on arrival in the Democratic-controlled Senate.
"Some say it's too radical, but we did do the work in passing the legislation," he said.
The Mayorkas impeachment fight
On the eve of the committee's meeting to advance the articles,defending Mayorkas' actions and accusing Republicans of abusing their impeachment power.
"Impeachment is an extraordinary remedy under the United States Constitution. It is not a tool for policy or political differences, and constitutional scholars and even some Republicans agree," Democrats said in the 29-page report, which slammed the proceedings as a political exercise meant to "satiate the extreme MAGA base."
The committee sped through impeachment proceedings this month, holding just two hearings in which lawmakers heard, as well as from people whose family members have died as a result of fentanyl overdoses or violent crime.
Democrats said Republicans failed to give Mayorkas a chance to testify, denying him of "a meaningful opportunity to respond to the baseless charges against him."
Republicans and the Homeland Security Department clashed over whether Mayorkas would appear in person during the impeachment proceedings. Mayorkas declined to attend, citing a conflicting meeting with Mexican officials about border enforcement, but agreed to testify at a later date. Green accused Mayorkas of playing a game of "cat and mouse," and the border chief was instead instructed to submit written testimony before the end of the month.
But the committee's 18 Republican members then decided they did not need to wait to hear from Mayorkas, announcing after the final hearing that they all supported impeaching him.
In a letter to lawmakers ahead of Wednesday's vote, Mayorkas called on Congress to step up and provide a legislative solution to the border crisis. He said the policies negotiated by senators would "make a substantial difference at our border."
He also hit back at Republican attacks, calling their accusations "politically motivated."
"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," Mayorkas said.
In response to the release of the impeachment articles, the department on Sunday said the effort was a "distraction from other vital national security priorities and the work Congress should be doing to actually fix our broken immigration laws."
"They don't want to fix the problem; they want to campaign on it," the department said in a memo.
Nicole Sganga and Jaala Brown contributed reporting. This story has been updated to correct a reference to Mayorkas' department.
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