House Republicans impeach Homeland Security Secretary Mayorkas in historic, controversial vote

He has denied the allegations against him as "baseless."

February 13, 2024, 7:31 PM

The Republican-led House on Tuesday night narrowly impeached Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas over what they claim is his failure to enforce border laws amid a "crisis" of high illegal immigration, allegations he denies as "baseless."

The historic move -- only the second Cabinet impeachment since the country's founding, after William Belknap in 1876 -- has been criticized by some Republicans and many Democrats as based on policy disagreements, not accusations of specific crimes. Conservatives have also sought to paint Mayorkas as incompetent.

The impeachment articles are expected to be rejected by the Senate's Democratic majority.

The House GOP tried and failed last week to impeach Mayorkas on the same accusations.

In a statement after Tuesday's vote, Speaker Mike Johnson blamed Mayorkas for "fueling the worst border catastrophe in American history."

"[He] deserves to be impeached, and Congress has a constitutional obligation to do so," Johnson said. "Next to a declaration of war, impeachment is arguably the most serious authority given to the House and we have treated this matter accordingly."

A Department of Homeland Security spokesperson shot back in a statement that "without a shred of evidence or legitimate Constitutional grounds, and despite bipartisan opposition, House Republicans have falsely smeared a dedicated public servant who has spent more than 20 years enforcing our laws and serving our country."

"Secretary Mayorkas and the Department of Homeland Security will continue working every day to keep Americans safe," the spokesperson said.

The articles of impeachment against Mayorkas passed on Tuesday 214-213, with the majority made up of only Republicans and three Republicans voting with Democrats against impeachment.

Two Democrats representatives, Judy Chu and Lois Frankel, and Republican Reps. Brian Mast and Maria Salazar did not vote.

Reps. Ken Buck, Mike Gallagher and Tom McClintock -- the same three Republicans who opposed a previous attempt to impeachment Mayorkas last week -- kept their opposition.

Mayorkas will now face a trial in the Democratic-controlled Senate, where a two-thirds majority vote will be needed to convict and remove him from office, which is very unlikely.

PHOTO: Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas speaks about security during a news conference ahead of Super Bowl LVIII at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, Nevada on February 7, 2024.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas speaks about security during a news conference ahead of Super Bowl LVIII at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, Nevada on February 7, 2024.
Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

The chamber's majority leader, Chuck Schumer, on Tuesday night labeled the impeachment a "sham," echoing how Democrats say Republicans have seized on Mayorkas to go after President Joe Biden's border policies and spotlight immigration.

Polling shows the public broadly disapproves of Biden's handling of the issue.

The president criticized Tuesday's vote in a statement, saying in part, "History will not look kindly on House Republicans for their blatant act of unconstitutional partisanship."

The Senate is on a two-week recess, returning Feb. 26.

"The House impeachment managers will present the articles of impeachment to the Senate following the state work period. Senators will be sworn in as jurors in the trial the next day. Senate President Pro Tempore Patty Murray will preside," Schumer's office said.

Republicans accuse Mayorkas of "willful and systemic refusal to comply with the law" and "breach of public trust" amid a surge in unauthorized migrant crossings, according to the articles of impeachment against him.

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mark Green, a Tennessee Republican who led the impeachment investigation, has cited Mayorkas discussing "operational control" of the U.S. border, which Congress previously defined as zero illegal crossings.

As Mayorkas has pointed out, under this definition, no administration has achieved operational control. At a previous congressional hearing, Mayorkas said he believed there was a form of operational control and said he was not following the definition outlined in the dated statute.

Green, however, has contended Mayorkas' conduct is disqualifying regardless if it is criminal: "The founders designed impeachment not just to remove officials engaged in criminal behavior, but those guilty of such gross incompetence that their conduct had endangered their fellow Americans, betrayed the public trust and represented a neglect of duty."

Lauding the successful impeachment vote on Tuesday, Green said in a statement: "Our country has suffered from an unprecedented border crisis that has turned every state into a border state, causing untold suffering in communities across our country. With this vote, Congress has made clear that we will not tolerate such lawlessness."

Critics of the impeachment push, including Rep. Buck of Colorado, have said the articles don't show specific crimes or wrongdoing and instead reflect a political dispute with the Biden administration.

"This administration has removed, returned, or expelled more migrants in three years than the prior Administration did in four years," DHS said in a memo circulated ahead of Tuesday's vote.

The previous attempt to impeach Mayorkas surprisingly failed last week after the three Republicans voted against it along with all Democrats present.

That marked a major defeat for Speaker Johnson and other House GOP leaders.

"Last night was a setback, but democracy is messy," Johnson told reporters the next day on Capitol Hill, seeking to soften the losses. "We live in a time of divided government. We have a razor-thin margin here, and every vote counts."

House Majority Leader Steve Scalise then returned to Washington after blood cancer treatment to help his party's narrow majority in the second vote, on Tuesday.

Scalise's office had said in a statement on Thursday that he "successfully completed his autologous stem cell treatment and has been medically cleared to resume travel."

The Louisiana Republican is in "complete remission," his office said then.

PHOTO: House Majority Leader Steve Scalise speaks during a news conference on the impeachment inquiry of President Joe Biden in the U.S. Capitol, November 29, 2023.
House Majority Leader Steve Scalise speaks during a news conference on the impeachment inquiry of President Joe Biden in the U.S. Capitol, November 29, 2023.
Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

On NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday, Mayorkas maintained that the flood of migrants at the border has been a problem for years and that legislative action is needed to fix the system.

In December, there were 302,000 encounters along the southwest border -- the highest monthly total ever recorded.

Kristen Welker pressed Mayorkas on whether he bears the responsibility for the flood of migrants crossing the border -- something President Biden has also called a "crisis."

"It certainly is a crisis, and, well, we don't bear responsibility for a broken system and we're doing a tremendous amount within that broken system," Mayorkas said. "But, fundamentally, fundamentally, Congress is the only one who can fix that."

Last week, the Senate's vote to advance a bipartisan foreign aid bill with major new border provisions failed -- a blow to the negotiators who worked for months with Mayorkas to develop the border deal. Johnson and other notable GOP critics of the agreement argued it was insufficient.

"The system has not been fixed for 30 years," Mayorkas said on NBC. "A bipartisan group of senators have now presented us with the tools and resources we need ... and yet, Congress killed it before even reading it."

ABC News' Luke Barr, Mary Bruce, Alexandra Hutzler, Mariam Khan and Quinn Owen contributed to this report.

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