POLITICS & ELECTIONS

Senate dismisses two articles of impeachment against Homeland Security secretary, ends trial

Apr 17, 2024, 3:09 PM

In this image from video from Senate Television, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., presiding over the Sen...

In this image from video from Senate Television, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., presiding over the Senate acting as a court of impeachment, announces the results of the vote to adjourn the court of impeachment, at the impeachment trial of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on the Senate floor at the U.S. Capitol, Wednesday, April 17, 2024, in Washington. (Senate Television via AP)

(Senate Television via AP)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate has dismissed all impeachment charges against Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, ending the House Republican push to remove the Cabinet secretary from office over his handling of the the U.S.-Mexico border and ending his trial before arguments even began.

Senators voted to dismiss both articles of impeachment and end the trial, with Democrats arguing that the articles were unconstitutional. The first article charged Mayorkas with “willful and systemic refusal to comply” with immigration law. The second article charged Mayorkas with a “breach of trust” for saying the border was secure. The votes were 51-48 and 51-49, both along party lines.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the House Republicans’ case failed to meet “the high standard of high crimes and misdemeanors” and could set a dangerous precedent.

“For the sake of the Senate’s integrity and to protect impeachment for those rare cases we truly need it, senators should dismiss today’s charges,” said Schumer, D-N.Y., as he opened Wednesday’s session.

Senate Republicans had argued for a full impeachment trial after the House narrowly voted in February to impeach Mayorkas for his handling of the border, arguing in the two articles that he “willfully and systematically” refused to enforce immigration laws. The House vote was the first time in nearly 150 years that a Cabinet secretary was impeached.

An outright dismissal of House Republicans’ prosecution of Mayorkas, with no chance to argue the case, is an embarrassing defeat for House Republicans and embattled House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., who made the impeachment a priority. And it is likely to resonate politically for both Republicans and Democrats in a presidential election year when border security has been a top issue.

Republicans argue that President Joe Biden has been weak on the border as arrests for illegal crossings skyrocketed to more than 2 million people during the last two years of his term, though they have fallen from a record-high of 250,000 in December amid heightened enforcement in Mexico. Democrats say that instead of impeaching Mayorkas, Republicans should have accepted a bipartisan Senate compromise aimed at reducing the number of migrants who come into the U.S. illegally.

House impeachment managers delivered the charges to the Senate on Tuesday, standing in the well of the Senate and reading them aloud to a captive audience of senators. But they did not get a chance to present the case before the Senate dismissed it.

Once the senators were sworn in on Wednesday, the chamber turned into the court of impeachment, with Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington presiding. Murray is the president pro tempore of the Senate, or the senior-most member of the majority party who sits in for the vice president. Senators approached the front of the Senate in groups of four to sign an oath book that is stored in the National Archives.

Schumer then called for the votes to dismiss the trial after Republicans rejected a proposed agreement for Senate debate time and several votes on GOP objections. Missouri Sen. Eric Schmitt said Democrats were “bulldozing 200 years of precedent” on impeachments by trying to dismiss the trial.

Angry Republicans called for several votes to delay the inevitable final outcome, but none of them passed as all Democrats and three Independents held together.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said “history will not judge this moment well.”

“This process must not be abused,” McConnell said. “It must not be short-circuited.”

Still, Republicans similarly moved to dismiss former President Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial in 2021, weeks after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. All but five GOP senators — including McConnell — voted to end the trial, arguing it was unconstitutional because Trump had already left office.

As Johnson signed the articles Monday in preparation for sending them across the Capitol, he said Schumer should convene a trial to “hold those who engineered this crisis to full account.”

Schumer “is the only impediment to delivering accountability for the American people,” Johnson said. “Pursuant to the Constitution, the House demands a trial.”

Even if the Senate held a trial, Republicans would not be able to win the support of the two-thirds of the Senate that is needed to convict and remove Mayorkas from office — Democrats control the Senate, 51-49, and they appear to be united against the impeachment effort. Not one House Democrat supported it, either.

Mayorkas, who was in New York on Wednesday to launch a campaign for children’s online safety, reiterated that he’s focused on the work of his department. “The Senate is going to do what the Senate considers to be appropriate as that proceeds,” he said. “I am here in New York City on Wednesday morning fighting online sexual exploitation and abuse. I’m focused on our mission.”

Johnson delayed sending the articles to the Senate for weeks while both chambers finished work on government funding legislation and took a two-week recess. Johnson had said he would send them to the Senate last week, but he punted again after Senate Republicans said they wanted more time to prepare.

At a hearing with Mayorkas on Tuesday about President Joe Biden’s budget request for the department, some of the House impeachment managers previewed the arguments they would have made.

Tennessee Rep. Mark Green, the chairman of the House Homeland Security panel, told the secretary that he has a duty under the law to control and guard U.S. borders, and “during your three years as secretary, you have failed to fulfill this oath. You have refused to comply with the laws passed by Congress, and you have breached the public trust.”

Mayorkas defended the department’s efforts but said the nation’s immigration system is “fundamentally broken, and only Congress can fix it.”

The impeachment trial is the third in five years. Democrats impeached President Donald Trump twice, once over his dealings with Ukraine and the second time in the days after the Capitol attack. Trump was acquitted by the Senate both times.

If the Senate had moved to a trial on Mayorkas, senators would have been forced to sit in their seats for the duration, maybe weeks, while the House impeachment managers and lawyers representing Mayorkas made their cases.

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Senate dismisses two articles of impeachment against Homeland Security secretary, ends trial