Mayorkas vote: House fails to impeach Homeland Security Secretary, thwarted by Republican defections

ByAnnie Grayer, CNN, CNNWire
Wednesday, February 7, 2024
House vote to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Mayorkas fails
House Republicans failed Tuesday to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

The House vote to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas failed Tuesday evening, a stunning blow to House Republicans who had pushed the effort as a key political goal.

The House vote was 214-216. Three Republicans, Colorado Rep. Ken Buck, Wisconsin Rep. Mike Gallagher and California Rep. Tom McClintock, joined the Democrats in voting against the resolution. GOP Rep. Blake Moore joined the "no" side to allow the House GOP to bring up the vote again.

Even though House Republicans suffered a massive defeat and failed to impeach Mayorkas on Tuesday, GOP leadership said they plan to bring up the vote again.

"House Republicans fully intend to bring Articles of Impeachment against Secretary Mayorkas back to the floor when we have the votes for passage," Speaker Mike Johnson spokesman Raj Shah posted on X.

House Homeland Security Chairman Mark Green framed the failed vote as merely a delay in the process and said the House would vote again when Majority Leader Steve Scalise returns from receiving cancer treatments.

"I'm frustrated," Green, a Republican from Tennessee, said of the vote. "But we will bring it back up obviously when Scalise and others are here, and it will pass. It's a delay is all this is."

Given the narrow margins in the House, Republicans could only afford to lose a handful votes. A surprise move by Democratic Rep. Al Green of Texas to return from surgery to vote changed the margins at the eleventh hour to make it impossible for Republicans to garner enough support.

Green was wheeled onto the House floor at the last minute with no shoes to vote against impeaching Mayorkas, a shocking loss for Republicans, sources told CNN.

Even Republicans acknowledged that Democrats waiting to reveal Green's presence was well played.

"I like a good game," GOP Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona told CNN. "They played a good game. I don't like that we lost."

Green's return may have caught Republicans by surprise - but Democratic leaders said they were ready for it.

"It was not a surprise," House Minority Whip Katherine Clark told CNN of Green's return.

Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi said of Al Green's return, "He had been out, but he saw the importance of coming and he did."

Green was not the only lawmaker rushing back to the Capitol for the crucial vote.

GOP Rep. Hal Rogers of Kentucky, who had been recovering from a car accident, appeared on the House floor in a large neck brace, and GOP Rep. Nick Langworthy of New York returned just in time to vote after leaving the Capitol for an emergency.

"It was all hands on deck," Thompson reflected.

House Republicans openly criticized their own leadership for not knowing the vote would fail ahead of time and not being prepared for the fiasco that played out.

"We need to know exactly where we are and we need to be careful not to get out ahead of our skis and put something on the floor that we don't have certainty on," said GOP Rep. Steve Womack of Arkansas.

"We behave sometimes like we're in the minority," he added.

"I would have thought that would have been basic," GOP Rep. Ralph Norman said of the whip count heading into the vote. "They're good on the other side of knowing that ... Is it that hard?"

Asked her message to the three Republicans who voted against impeachment, GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia told CNN, "I'm sure they'll hear from their constituents, I'm sure they're probably hearing from them already, but I think they should listen to them."

The Department of Homeland Security said House Republicans should abandon "political games" following the failed effort to impeachment 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.

The failed vote underscores the challenges facing Johnson and the Republican conference trying to navigate a slim majority that has a variety of opinions.

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.

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

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.

Green has argued Mayorkas' "willful and systemic refusal to comply with the law" and "breach of public trust" amounts to the impeachable offenses of high crimes and misdemeanors. Green claimed Mayorkas has "willfully exceeded" his parole authority, "refused to comply" with detention mandates, and lied for saying that DHS has "operational control" over the border. He cited Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, who said Congress could "employ the weapons of inter-branch warfare," including impeachment, in light of the Supreme Court ruling that states could not challenge federal immigration law.

But a variety of legal scholars have poured cold water on the legal arguments Republicans are using to support their impeachment effort.

Alan Dershowitz, who represented former President Donald Trump in his first impeachment, said House Republicans do not have the evidence to impeach Mayorkas.

"Whatever else Mayorkas may or may not have done, he has not committed bribery, treason, or high crimes and misdemeanors," Dershowitz wrote in an op-ed.

Former DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff, who served under Republican President George W. Bush, constitutional law expert Jonathan Turley, who has been called by Republicans to serve as a witness in hearings, and 25 law professors have all written about why Republicans have not presented evidence against Mayorkas that rises to the level of impeachment.

Mayorkas - whom the department said is meeting with staff in Mountain View, California, on Tuesday, to discuss cybersecurity and artificial intelligence - 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.

The Department of Homeland Security has also blasted House Republicans over its upcoming committee vote, calling it a "farce" and "distraction from other vital national security priorities."

In a memo, DHS slammed the impeachment inquiry, arguing that there are no high crimes or misdemeanors, that the probe was "predetermined from the start" and that the process is "cynical and hypocritical."

In response to Republicans blaming Mayorkas for the uptick in border crossings, the DHS memo states, "This Administration has removed, returned, or expelled more migrants in three years than the prior Administration did in four years."

Addressing the claim that Mayorkas has failed to maintain operational control over the border, DHS said that based on the way the law defines operational control, "no administration has ever had operational control."

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."

Meanwhile the White House issued a statement calling the resolution to impeach Mayorkas "an unprecedented and unconstitutional act of political retribution that would do nothing to solve the challenges our Nation faces in securing the border."

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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