Associated Press

House Republicans stage party-line committee vote on Mayorkas impeachment as border becomes central 2024 campaign issue

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas testifies in November.

AP/Alex Brandon

U.S. House Republicans voted along party lines early Wednesday to take another step toward impeaching Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas for what they called a “willful and systematic” refusal to enforce immigration laws as border security becomes a top 2024 election issue.

The Homeland Security Committee debated all day Tuesday and well into the night before recommending two articles of impeachment against Mayorkas to the full House, a rare charge against a cabinet official unseen in nearly 150 years, as Republicans make GOP presidential frontrunner Donald Trump’s hardline deportation approach to immigration their own.

The committee Republicans voted in favor, while the Democrats unified against, resulting in a committee vote of 18-15.

“We cannot allow this man to remain in office any longer,” said the committee’s chairman, Mark Green, a Tennessee Republican.

The impeachment articles charge that Mayorkas “refused to comply with Federal immigration laws” amid a record surge of migrants and that he has “breached the public trust” in his claims to Congress that the U.S.-Mexico border is secure.

The full House could vote on Mayorkas’s impeachment as soon as next week. If approved, the charges would go to the Senate for a trial, though senators may first convene a special committee for consideration.

From the archives (June 2023): House Republicans push for Biden’s impeachment — and, at the same time, Trump’s un-impeachment

With an unusual personal appeal, Mayorkas — deep in bipartisan Senate talks on a border-security package even as House Republicans move to oust him from his post — wrote in a letter to the committee that it should be working with the Biden administration to update the nation’s “broken and outdated” immigration laws for the 21st century, an era of record global migration.

“We need a legislative solution and only Congress can provide it,” Mayorkas wrote in the pointed letter to the panel’s chairman.

Context: Republicans in House and Senate taking divergent paths on southern border

Plus: Biden urges Congress to pass border bill as House speaker suggests it may be ‘dead on arrival’

Also see: Biden offers fresh assurances he would shut down border ‘right now’ if Congress sends him a deal

Rarely has a cabinet member faced impeachment, with its constitutionally expressed standard of “high crimes and misdemeanors,” and Democrats on the panel dismissed the proceedings as a stunt and a sham that could set a chilling precedent for other civil servants snared in policy disputes by lawmakers who disagree with a president’s approach.

“This is a terrible day for the committee, the United States, the Constitution and our great country,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, the committee’s ranking Democrat.

Referring to Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan, Thompson said the “MAGA-led impeachment of Secretary Mayorkas is a baseless sham.”

The House’s proceedings against Mayorkas have created an oddly split-screen Capitol Hill, as the Senate works deliberately with the secretary on a bipartisan border-security package that is now on life support.

The package being negotiated by the senators with Mayorkas could emerge as the most consequential bipartisan immigration proposal in a decade. Or it could collapse in political failure as Republicans, and perhaps some Democrats, run from the effort.

Trump, on the campaign trail and in private talks, has tried to quash the deal. “I’d rather have no bill than a bad bill,” Trump said over the weekend in Las Vegas. Other Republicans, even as they’ve universally characterized the border situation as a crisis, have publicly expressed unwillingness to create a perceived “win” for an incumbent president of the opposing party in an election year.

Don’t miss: Bipartisan deal on border and Ukraine at risk of collapse as Trump presses Senate Republicans to walk away

President Joe Biden, in his own campaign remarks in South Carolina, said that if Congress sends him a bill with emergency authority he’ll “shut down the border right now” to get migration under control.

“I’ve done all I can do,” Biden told reporters Tuesday before departing for a campaign-related trip to Florida. “Give me the power” through legislation, which he said is something he’s asked “from the very day I got in office.”

The Republicans are focused on the secretary’s handling of the southern border, which has experienced a increasing number of migrants over the past year, many seeking asylum in the U.S., at a time when drug cartels are using the border with Mexico to traffic people and ship deadly fentanyl into the states.

Rep, Elise Stefanik, a New York Republican who broke with a center-right past and voting record to become a strident Trump ally in the latter stages of his single White House term and has been mentioned as a possible Trump vice presidential pick, called it an “invasion.”

Republicans contend that the Biden administration and Mayorkas either got rid of policies in place under Trump that had controlled migration or enacted policies of their own that encouraged migrants from around the world to come to the U.S. illegally via the southern border.

House Speaker Mike Johnson said Biden and Mayorkas have “created a catastrophe” on the border, and he criticized the emerging Senate package. The GOP leader said the president is now trying to turn the blame back on Congress for failing to update immigration laws.

The Republicans also accused Mayorkas of lying to Congress, pointing to comments about the southern border’s being secure or about the vetting of Afghans airlifted to the U.S. after military withdrawal from their country.

“It’s high time” for impeachment, said Rep. Michael McCaul, a Republican from Texas, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, who called Mayorkas the “architect” of the border problems. “He has what’s coming to him.”

The House impeachment hearings against Mayorkas sprinted ahead in January while the Republicans’ separate impeachment inquiry into Biden over the business dealings of his son Hunter Biden sputtered.

From the archives (September 2023): ‘He’s being squeezed’: McCarthy yields to right-flank insistence on Biden impeachment inquiry amid intensifying threat to speakership

Also see: Hunter Biden in House hearing room as Republicans move toward contempt vote

Democrats argue that Mayorkas is acting under his legal authorities at the department and that the criticisms against him do not remotely rise to the level of impeachment.

House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York called the proceedings a “political stunt” ordered up by Trump and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Georgia Republican and unabashed Trump backer, who pushed the resolution forward.

During the hearing, Rep. Robert Garcia, a California Democrat, pointed to Trump’s comments echoing Adolf Hitler that immigrants are “poisoning the blood” of the U.S. and to his proposals for militarizing the border as extreme, arguing the impeachment proceedings were “all about trying to get Donald Trump re-elected.”

Debate dragged into the night as Democrats tried and failed to amend the resolution.

Mayorkas never testified on his own behalf during the rushed impeachment proceedings — he and the committee couldn’t agree on a date — but in his letter he drew on his own background as a child brought to the U.S. by his parents fleeing Cuba and on his career spent prosecuting criminals.

“Your false accusations do not rattle me and do not divert me” from public service, he wrote.

Green, the Republican committee chair, disparaged Mayorkas’s letter as an “11th-hour response” to the committee that was “inadequate and unbecoming of a Cabinet secretary.”

It’s unclear if Republicans will have the support from their ranks to go through with the impeachment vote in the full House, especially with their vanishingly slim majority and with all Democrats expected to vote against it.

Last year, eight House Republicans voted to shelve the impeachment resolution proposed by Greene, though many of them have since signaled openness to it. The committee approved a revised version.

Legal experts, including Jonathan Turley and Alan Dershowitz, both of whom defended Trump during impeachment proceedings, have said the criticisms of Mayorkas do not rise to impeachable offenses.

Michael Chertoff, the U.S.’s second secretary of homeland security and a Republican, argued in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that House Republicans were seeking to unseat Mayorkas over unimpeachable policy differences and advancing an “unsupported argument that he is derelict in his duty.”

Calling the committee’s proceedings a charade that should be brought to an immediate halt, Chertoff wrote that, despite partisan differences with Mayorkas, “I know Mr. Mayorkas to be fair and honest — dedicated to the safety and security of the U.S.”

The newspaper’s conservative editorial board, meanwhile, wrote that Mayorkas’s impeachment, even if it were against all odds to succeed as House Republicans and their allies hope, would accomplish nothing.

“Grandstanding,” wrote the Journal editorial board, “is easier than governing, and Republicans have to decide whether to accomplish anything other than impeaching Democrats.”

If the House does agree to impeach Mayorkas, the charges would next to go the Senate. In 1876, the House impeached Defense Secretary William Belknap over kickbacks in government contracts, but the Senate acquitted him in a trial.

MarketWatch contributed.