House impeaches Alejandro Mayorkas, first Cabinet secretary to be impeached in almost 150 years

Feb 13, 2024, 5:46 PM

House Speaker Mike Johnson speaks as the GOP-led House has voted to impeach Homeland Security Secre...

House Speaker Mike Johnson speaks as the GOP-led House has voted to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. He is the first Cabinet secretary to be impeached in nearly 150 years. (House TV)

(House TV)

(CNN) — The House, by a narrow margin, has voted to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, the first Cabinet secretary to be impeached in almost 150 years.

The result came one week after the stunning loss House Republicans suffered when they last tried to impeach Mayorkas and GOP defections and an absence sank the initial House floor vote.

Last week, the absence of House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, and the surprise attendance by Texas Democrat Al Green, who had just had surgery and was wheeled into the chamber to vote, denied Republicans a majority vote, leaving the vote deadlocked 215-215.

Given the narrow margins in the House, Republicans could only afford to lose a handful of votes depending on the number of members who are absent.

Only one Cabinet official has previously been impeached in American history: Secretary of War William Belknap in 1876.

The embarrassing initial defeat of the Mayorkas impeachment effort – which was quickly followed by another floor failure over a standalone Israel aid package – only crystalized the GOP’s yearlong struggle to govern amid a rambunctious and anemic majority. In the fallout of the failed impeachment vote, Republican lawmakers openly aired their frustrations and pointed fingers as to who is to blame, with some questioning their own leadership’s decision-making.

“I had many people reach out to me via text message and say, ‘What the hell are you guys doing up there?’ I think our base is a little frustrated,” GOP Rep. Troy Nehls of Texas told CNN. “We may have the gavel, but we’re not acting like we’re in the majority.”

“I was embarrassed for our conference, for our party, because we can do better than we did last night,” said GOP Rep. Lance Gooden of Texas.

The meltdown – just the latest in a long string of chaotic moments under this GOP majority – is raising fresh concerns over how Republicans will navigate the fast approaching government funding deadline and their ability to maintain control of the House after November.

“It was a lousy day. Two bad play calls back to back. Both active choices to schedule them. It was a huge mistake,” said GOP Rep. Patrick McHenry of North Carolina, an ally to former Speaker Kevin McCarthy. “The speaker is a very nice man,” he said of Speaker Mike Johnson, but added, “He’s gotta learn from his mistakes.”

The Department of Homeland Security said House Republicans should abandon “political games” following the failed effort to impeach Mayorkas.

“This baseless impeachment should never have moved forward; it faces bipartisan opposition and legal experts resoundingly say it is unconstitutional,” DHS spokesperson Mia Ehrenberg said in a statement.

Meanwhile White House spokesman Ian Sams called the failed impeachment vote a “baseless, unconstitutional impeachment stunt” and said there is “bipartisan agreement” that it should fail.

House Republicans claim Mayorkas has committed high crimes and misdemeanors for his handling of the southern border, even though several constitutional experts have said the evidence does not reach that high bar.

The impeachment effort comes as House Republicans have faced building pressure from their base to hold the Biden administration accountable on a key campaign issue: the border.

When presented with a bipartisan legislative solution negotiated with Senate Republicans however, GOP House members flatly rejected it, which contributed to the ultimate squashing of the deal.

Even if Mayorkas is impeached in the House, it is highly unlikely that he will be charged in the Democratic-controlled Senate. Senate Democrats are still weighing how to respond if Mayorkas is impeached: Move ahead with a trial, or move to dismiss it quickly given their view that it’s blatantly political.

While Republicans have been investigating Mayorkas’ handling of the border since they reclaimed the House majority, momentum to plot a swift impeachment of the secretary picked up steam last month as key swing-district Republicans expressed fresh openness to the idea amid a recent surge of migrant crossings at the southern border.

Mayorkas has sent a letter to House Republicans to defend his record in public service in advance of the vote.

“My reverence for law enforcement was instilled in me by my parents, who brought me to this country to escape the Communist takeover of Cuba and allow me the freedoms and opportunity that our democracy provides,” Mayorkas said.

Mayorkas wrote that “the problems with our broken and outdated immigration system are not new” and called on Congress to help provide a legislative solution to the “historically divisive issue.” He praised the bipartisan group of senators he has worked with for its willingness to put their differences aside to try to find solutions at the border.

Democrats on the Homeland Security Committee have repeatedly bashed their Republican colleagues for their efforts to impeach Mayorkas and have released a report calling the GOP effort “a sham.”

Instead of formally launching an impeachment inquiry with a House floor vote, the GOP effort to impeach Mayorkas has been unilaterally run through the Homeland Security Committee as opposed to the House Judiciary Committee, where impeachment articles typically originate, though it is not constitutionally required.

In the investigative phase, Homeland Security Committee Republicans held 10 hearings, published five interim reports and conducted 11 transcribed interviews with current and former Border Patrol agents. But since launching the inquiry, the GOP-led panel has held only two hearings and has decided to move forward with impeachment articles without giving the secretary an opportunity to testify.

Republicans invited Mayorkas to testify at an impeachment hearing on January 18. But the DHS secretary said he was hosting Mexican Cabinet members to discuss border enforcement, and he asked to work with the committee on scheduling a different date, according to a letter obtained by CNN.

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House impeaches Alejandro Mayorkas, first Cabinet secretary to be impeached in almost 150 years