In a stunning blow to GOP leaders, the House rejected an effort to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Tuesday, after a number of Republicans joined Democrats in opposing the vote.
The final vote was 214 to 216.
The whole effort was a political stunt, with one goal: helping Donald Trump look tough on border issues ahead of November’s presidential election. The GOP’s two articles of impeachment accused Mayorkas of “willful” refusal to comply with immigration laws, and of breaching public trust.
But they never produced any evidence that Mayorkas had committed crimes ― let alone crimes that meet the threshold for impeachable offenses. The Constitution spells out that impeachment is reserved for rare instances of “high crimes and misdemeanors,” like bribery or treason.
In the case of Mayorkas, a Cabinet secretary charged with carrying out immigration laws, the GOP was essentially attacking him for policies it doesn’t like.
In the lead-up to the vote, Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.), who is a constitutional lawyer, touted his legal credentials and said he had no choice but to impeach.
“In my review and my understanding and everything I’ve known and read and studied over the years, I don’t believe there’s ever been a Cabinet secretary who was so blatantly, openly, willfully and without remorse did exactly the opposite of what the federal law requires him to do,” Johnson said in a press conference. “It’s an extreme measure, but extreme times call for extreme measures.”
But a number of Republicans found Johnson’s rhetoric unpersuasive, saying that while they may not agree with the Biden administration’s policies, it would be pointless and unconstitutional to impeach Mayorkas.
“The problem is that they fail to identify an impeachable crime that Mayorkas has committed,” Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.), one of the GOP members who voted against impeachment, said Tuesday morning in a 10-page memo criticizing his party’s effort.
“In effect, they stretch and distort the Constitution in order to hold the administration accountable for stretching and distorting the law,” he said.
McClintock echoed the sentiments of Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.), who was the first Republican to announce his opposition to impeachment.
“It’s maladministration. [Mayorkas is] terrible. The border is a disaster,” Buck told reporters last Thursday. “But that’s not impeachable.”
House Republicans could change immigration policies they don’t like by passing bipartisan legislation through Congress. They’ve spent months screaming about the need to address border security, and in the Senate, some Republicans actually put in the work and unveiled a long-awaited bill this week with bipartisan support to change immigration policies.
But they hit a snag: Trump.
The GOP presidential front-runner last month inserted himself into Senate negotiations and personally ordered his party not to pass any bipartisan border bills, because they would give President Joe Biden a win ahead of the November presidential election.
Torn between angering Trump and looking pathetic by not tackling the border problems they‘ve been vowing to address, House Republicans settled on going after Mayorkas.
Even if they had been successful in impeaching Mayorkas, the impeachment articles would have gone nowhere in the Senate.
“There have already been many shameful and embarrassing moments in this Republican House majority,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said last week. “But abusing the Constitution by pursuing this sham impeachment effort is a new, ignominious low.”
“And let this be clear: This unserious spectacle by House Republicans does nothing ― nothing ― to secure our border,” he said.
Republican senators didn’t want anything to do with the House’s impeachment effort, either.
Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) called it “the dumbest exercise and use of time.”
“What’s rich to me is the speaker says the [border] bill in the Senate is … dead on arrival,” Cramer told reporters on Tuesday. “And then they proceed with impeaching a cabinet secretary, which is obviously dead on arrival.”