In stunning defeat, House Republicans fail to impeach DHS Secretary Mayorkas over border

Minutes later, Johnson's push to pass a standalone Israel aid bill also failed.

February 6, 2024, 8:26 PM

In a stunning defeat, a Republican-led push to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas failed on Tuesday.

The final vote was 214-216. Three Republicans joined all Democrats present in opposing the measure. A fourth Republican voted against for procedural reasons.

For a moment, the vote was tied at 215-215 before another Republican switched to vote against.

Speaker Mike Johnson announced the resolution had failed, to cheers from Democrats in the chamber.

Moments before, when House Republicans thought they had eked out the impeachment vote -- despite the defiance of three of their members -- Democratic Rep. Al Green, of Texas rolled in to the chamber in a wheelchair in hospital scrubs.

Democratic leaders had brought Green back to the Capitol from the hospital where he was recovering from surgery. Green voted no, deadlocking the chamber and preventing Republicans from impeaching Mayorkas.

A Democratic leadership source said Green was feeling well enough to travel back to Capitol Hill, and that he was expected to return before the vote.

Minutes after the Mayorkas vote failed, Johnson suffered another stinging defeat when the House fell short of the votes needed to pass a stand-alone bill he had backed to provide aid to Israel.

The Mayorkas measure is likely to come up again. When asked by ABC News while leaving the chamber if he plans to bring up the vote again, Johnson responded, "Yes."

During the Mayorkas drama, Rep. Blake Moore, R-Utah, filed a motion to reconsider immediately after the vote failed, allowing it to be taken up again. It is likely to be scheduled when Majority Leader Steve Scalise, who is receiving cancer treatment, is able to attend.

The articles of impeachment accuse Mayorkas, long the target of GOP attacks when it comes to immigration policy, of "willful and systemic refusal to comply with the law" and "breach of public trust" amid a surge in unauthorized migrant crossings.

A spokesperson for the DHS called the impeachment baseless and said that it should not have moved forward.

"If House Republicans are serious about border security, they should abandon these political games, and instead support the bipartisan national security agreement in the Senate to get DHS the enforcement resources we need. Secretary Mayorkas remains focused on working across the aisle to promote real solutions at the border and keep our country safe," Mia Ehrenberg, DHS spokesperson, said in a statement.

The White House also spoke out against the efforts to impeach Mayorkas.

"Clearly there is bipartisan agreement that this baseless, unconstitutional impeachment stunt should fail. House Republicans ought to realize that extreme political stunts like this are a waste of time, and instead join the President, Secretary Mayorkas, and Republicans and Democrats who want to work together to deliver real solutions that actually strengthen border security," Ian Sams, White House spokesperson for oversight and investigations, said in a statement.

Mayorkas has vigorously defended himself and the department, calling the allegations "baseless" and insisting it won't distract from their work. Democrats have contended the impeachment effort is unconstitutional and politically motivated.

Speculation grew throughout the day as to whether Johnson had the votes for the measure to pass. Republicans have a razor-thin three-vote majority in the House, and two members of the conference had said ahead of time they were against impeaching Mayorkas.

Among the GOP defectors were Reps. Ken Buck of Colorado, Tom McClintock of California and Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin.

Lawmakers debated the impeachment resolution for just over two hours ahead of the vote.

Homeland Security Committee chairman Mark Green, R-Tenn., defended the committee's yearlong probe into Mayorkas and said his actions are responsible for a border crisis that Democrats have "turned a blind eye" to.

"His refusal to obey the law has led to the death of our fellow citizens. And he no longer deserves to keep his job," Green said of Mayorkas as debate began.

Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas testifies during a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on threats to the homeland, Oct. 31, 2023, on Capitol Hill.
Stephanie Scarbrough/AP, FILE

Rep. Bennie Thompson, the committee's top Democrat, countered that the proceeding is a "sham."

"House Republicans want to distort the Constitution and the secretary's record to cover up their inability and unwillingness to work with Democrats to strengthen border security," Thompson said. "It's about Republican politics and subversion of the Constitution."

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., suggested the GOP effort against Mayorkas has been to avenge former President Donald Trump, who was twice impeached by Democrats.

"Because when the puppet master Donald Trump says 'jump,' extreme MAGA Republicans respond, 'How high?'" Jeffries said.

On the other side of the aisle, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, who has been tapped as one of the Republican impeachment managers, said it's Democrats who are "in a quandary."

"Either they must own the policies of murder and crime of American citizens, or they can admit Secretary Mayorkas has broken federal laws and vote to impeach Secretary Mayorkas," Greene said.

Speaker of the House Rep. Mike Johnson speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill, in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 6, 2024.
Jose Luis Magana/AP

One defector, Rep. Buck, explained why he is a no vote on impeachment in an op-ed published by The Hill on Monday. In it, he wrote he thinks Mayorkas will "most likely be remembered as the worst secretary of Homeland Security in the history of the United States" but didn't believe his conduct amounted to the Constitution's high bar of "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors."

McClintock announced his decision in a 10-page memo released Tuesday morning, in which he also criticized Mayorkas, but said the impeachment effort is "bad politics and bad policy."

"The problem is that they fail to identify an impeachable crime that Mayorkas has committed," McClintock wrote. "In effect, they stretch and distort the Constitution in order to hold the administration accountable for stretching and distorting the law."

Asked for his reaction to those in his party advising against impeachment, Johnson said he respects "everyone's view on it" but he believes it's a necessary step.

"There is no measure for Congress to take but this one," he said at a news conference alongside other GOP leaders. "It's an extreme measure. We do not take it lightly. I respect the conscience of everyone and how they vote."

If the vote had succeeded, it would've marked just the second time in U.S. history a Cabinet official has been impeached. The issue would have then go to trial in the Democrat-controlled Senate, where a two-thirds majority vote would be needed to convict.

The vote on whether to impeach Mayorkas coincides with a fierce debate over a new bipartisan bill that would amount to the first major overhaul of the immigration system in years.

The measure, the product of months of behind-the-scenes negotiations among a bipartisan group of senators, is supported by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and President Joe Biden.

Mayorkas, who played a role in negotiations, praised the bill as "tough, fair, and takes meaningful steps to address the challenges our country faces after decades of Congressional inaction."

But House Republican leaders, led by Johnson, have already deemed it dead on arrival if it gets past the Senate. Former President Donald Trump, looking to make immigration a top issue in the 2024 campaign, has also come out strong against the bill, calling it "ridiculous" and a "trap" for Republicans.

Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., criticized Republicans on both impeachment and the border bill as the House Rules Committee met Monday to mark up the Mayorkas resolution.

"Are you seriously going to come here and look us in the eye with a straight face and claim this is all about the border when you refuse to come together with Democrats and work on the border?" McGovern said. "No, you'd all rather advance this baseless, extreme, unconstitutional impeachment stunt. It's really something else."

House Rules Committee Chair Tom Cole, R-Okla., countered that Mayorkas was a "chief architect" of the border crisis and said the vote is about "accountability."

"Secretary Mayorkas has refused to uphold his oath of office. If he will not do so, his duty, then unfortunately the House must do its constitutional duty," Cole said during the markup.

The White House on Monday called the impeachment effort "unprecedented and unconstitutional."

"Impeaching Secretary Mayorkas would trivialize this solemn constitutional power and invite more partisan abuse of this authority in the future," according to a Statement of Administration Policy. "It would do nothing to solve the challenges we face in securing our Nation's borders, nor would it provide the funding the President has repeatedly requested for more Border Patrol agents, immigration judges, and cutting-edge tools to detect and stop fentanyl at the border."

ABC News' Benjamin Siegel, Jay O'Brien and Luke Barr contributed to this report.