Alejandro Mayorkas survives House impeachment vote as GOP lawmakers defect

Washington — Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas narrowly survived an impeachment vote on Tuesday in the House after a small group of Republicans helped sink the GOP-led effort. 

The House voted 216 to 214 against impeaching Mayorkas over his handling of the U.S.-Mexico border, with four Republicans voting with all Democrats. 

Republicans who voted against the impeachment resolution said Mayorkas’ conduct did not rise to the level of an impeachable offense and warned about the precedent the vote would set. 

Rep. Tom McClintock, a California Republican, said Tuesday morning that the impeachment articles “fail to identify an impeachable crime that Mayorkas has committed” and “stretch and distort the Constitution in order to hold the administration accountable for stretching and distorting the law.” 

Democrats accused Republicans of using the impeachment push to score political points ahead of the 2024 election, with immigration being a top voter concern. They also argued that it failed to meet the bar of a high crime or misdemeanor, a criticism shared by legal experts on both sides of the aisle. 

Why did Republicans attempt to impeach Mayorkas?

Republicans on the House Homeland Security Committee sped through impeachment proceedings, holding just two hearings within eight days in January. Republicans unveiled two articles of impeachment against Mayorkas without hearing testimony from him amid a disagreement about when he could appear. 

The charges accuse President Biden’s top immigration official 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 southern border. 

The first impeachment article accuses Mayorkas of failing to enforce immigration laws and releasing migrants into the U.S. who should have been detained. The second article alleges he lied to lawmakers about whether the southern border was secure when he previously testified that his department had “operational control” of the border. It also accuses Mayorkas of obstructing congressional oversight of his department. 

The Department of Homeland Security has said Congress has never given the executive branch the resources and personnel needed to detain every migrant as required by federal immigration law. The department also denied Mayorkas lied to lawmakers, pointing to how DHS uses “operational control” internally.

GOP Rep. Mark Green of Tennessee, the committee’s chairman, said in a statement that impeachment was necessary because Mayorkas’ “actions created this unprecedented crisis, turning every state into a border state.” 

In a statement on Monday, the Biden administration said it was “an unprecedented and unconstitutional act of political retribution that would do nothing to solve the challenges our nation faces in securing the border.”

The road to the Mayorkas impeachment vote 

Mayorkas has been under threat of impeachment over his handling of the border since Republicans took control of the House in 2023. 

GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia introduced an impeachment resolution against Mayorkas in early November, saying he had “violated his oath to uphold this constitutional duty” by allowing an “invasion” of undocumented immigrants. The House voted to refer the resolution to the Homeland Security Committee, which was already investigating Mayorkas.

Greene, outraged by the move, tried to force a vote on a second resolution targeting Mayorkas, but backed off after receiving assurances from House leaders the earlier effort would proceed at the committee level. 

At the time, several House Republicans expressed concerns about impeaching Mayorkas, saying that his conduct did not amount to impeachable offenses. 

Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, the top Democrat on the Homeland Security committee, said on Jan. 29 that the referral should have gone to the House Judiciary Committee. Thompson said it’s “the first-ever impeachment consideration by a committee other than the Judiciary Committee.” 

“It’s unusual,” Thompson said. “It speaks of a deal being made.”

Green, the committee chairman, countered that Democrats voted to send it to the Homeland Security panel. 

The committee announced its first impeachment hearing in early January, with its second and final hearing coming eight days later. Lawmakers heard from the grieving mothers of victims of violent crime and fentanyl overdoses, as well as three state attorneys general who are suing Mayorkas. Two law professors also testified that there was not a constitutional basis for Mayorkas’ impeachment. 

On Jan. 30, the committee advanced the impeachment articles on a party-line vote after a lengthy markup in which Republicans faulted Mayorkas for not keeping migrants in detention and blamed him for deaths caused by fentanyl, while Democrats called the charges baseless.

“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 during the markup. He said Congress could address the problem by passing legislation, but noted that House Republicans want to sink an immigration deal between a bipartisan group of senators and the Biden administration that is designed to reduce the unprecedented levels of illegal crossings in recent years. 

House Republicans counter that they passed a border security bill known as H.R. 2 last year, though it had no Democratic support and was dead on arrival in the Senate. 

Mayorkas defended himself against Republican attacks in a letter sent to the committee ahead of last week’s vote to advance the bill to the House floor. 

“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 wrote, also highlighting the department’s efforts to increase migrant deportations and combat trafficking networks. 

“I will defer a discussion of the constitutionality of your current effort to the many respected scholars and experts across the political spectrum who already have opined that it is contrary to law,” he added. 

— Ellis Kim contributed to this report.