WASHINGTON — A monthslong GOP campaign to oust Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas collapsed in the House on Tuesday after Democrats and a trio of skeptical Republicans voted to reject a resolution to impeach him over his handling of the southern border.
The vote was 214-216, making a stunning blow for Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., and House Republicans who have blamed the Biden administration for record migrant crossings and made border security a central campaign issue.
After a dramatic scene on the floor where leaders tried to whip votes, the roll call ended in a rare 215-215 tie. A member of GOP leadership, Rep. Blake Moore, R-Utah, changed his vote to no at the last minute so that Republicans can bring the issue up again when Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., returns from cancer treatment.
Had Tuesday’s vote been successful, Mayorkas would have been just the second impeachment of a Cabinet secretary in U.S. history — and the first in nearly 150 years. DHS spokesperson Mia Ehrenberg called the impeachment effort “baseless” in a statement. “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 nee,” she said.
The House impeachment vote went down to the wire with GOP lawmakers saying moments before the vote that they didn’t know the outcome. At one moment during the suspenseful roll call, Republicans thought they had enough members to impeach Mayorkas when someone pushed Rep. Al Green, D-Texas, onto the floor in a wheelchair and he cast his no vote. Lawmakers believed that Green was out sick and he had missed all previous votes in the day, but his last-minute showing tied things up at 215-215, shocking the chamber.
“I had to go to the emergency room and I had to have surgery, so it’s not easy to leave a hospital and get back here,” Green said after the vote, wearing blue hospital scrubs and socks. “So I always intended to show up. Mr. Mayorkas is a good man; that was a bad move. I had to be here.”
Two GOP lawmakers — Reps. Ken Buck of Colorado and Tom McClintock of California — declared before the vote that they would vote no. A third, Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., who is close to leadership, also voted against impeachment.
Gallagher, chairman of the select committee investigating the Chinese Communist Party, was among several Republicans who had expressed skepticism about the impeachment vote during a closed-door meeting Tuesday morning, lawmakers leaving the room told reporters.
Impeaching Mayorkas would “open Pandora’s box,” Gallagher warned his colleagues, according to a source in the room.
McClintock had argued in a floor speech last fall that Mayorkas had not committed impeachable offenses and warned that the GOP could be opening the door to future impeachments by the Democratic Party. He released a 10-page memo on Tuesday morning before the vote outlining his case against impeachment, saying Republicans “fail to identify an impeachable crime.”
Buck, a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said in an op-ed in The Hill: “To be clear, Secretary Mayorkas has completely failed at his job. He is incompetent. He is an embarrassment. And he will most likely be remembered as the worst secretary of Homeland Security in the history of the United States. “
“However, the Constitution is clear that impeachment is reserved for ‘Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.’ Maladministration or incompetence does not rise to what our founders considered an impeachable offense,” Buck wrote.
The failed vote comes during a presidential election year and amid a showdown between the House and the Senate over how to address the record number of illegal border crossings. The top four House GOP leaders issued a joint statement opposing a bipartisan Senate deal that would impose tougher asylum and border policies, saying it does not go far enough to stop illegal immigration.
“Any consideration of this Senate bill in its current form is a waste of time. It is DEAD on arrival in the House,” Speaker Mike Johnson and Majority Leader Steve Scalise, both of Louisiana, Emmer and GOP Conference Chair Elise Stefanik of New York said in their statement.
Democrats and DHS officials have dismissed the GOP’s impeachment push as an election-year political stunt, arguing that Republicans have no desire to truly address the border crisis.
“This farce of an impeachment is a distraction from other vital national security priorities and the work Congress should be doing to actually fix our broken immigration laws,” the DHS said in a memo countering the impeachment effort. “They don’t want to fix the problem; they want to campaign on it. That’s why they have undermined efforts to achieve bipartisan solutions and ignored the facts, legal scholars and experts, and even the Constitution itself in their quest to baselessly impeach Secretary Mayorkas.”
Impeachment critics also point to remarks from key conservative figures blasting the GOP’s impeachment of Mayorkas.
Jonathan Turley, a legal scholar who has served as a witness for House Republicans, said there is “no current evidence that he is corrupt or committed an impeachable offense. … That is why the case has not been made to impeach Alejandro Mayorkas.” And Alan Dershowitz, who was Donald Trump’s defense attorney during his first impeachment, declared that Mayorkas “has not committed bribery, treason, or high crimes and misdemeanors” and that Republicans are impeaching “based on partisan considerations.”
The conservative Wall Street Journal editorial board also had come out against impeaching Mayorkas.
A week ago, the House Homeland Security Committee, led by Chairman Mark Green, R-Tenn., passed the impeachment resolution on an 18-15 vote, strictly along party lines. The resolution, originally authored by far-right Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., spells out two articles of impeachment.
The first article accused Mayorkas of “willfully and systemically” refusing to comply with federal immigration laws. Because of that, it says, “millions of aliens have illegally entered the United States on an annual basis with many unlawfully remaining in the United States.”
The second article said that Mayorkas “breached the public trust” by making false statements to Congress and knowingly obstructing congressional oversight of DHS.
“The facts don’t lie and the numbers don’t lie, and we have the data,” Greene, a member of the Homeland Security panel, said in an interview Monday. “We’ve had witness after witness corroborate the truth: Secretary Mayorkas has broken federal immigration law. … He’s also completely violated his oath of office.”
Johnson had already indicated whom he would select as impeachment managers to prosecute the case against Mayorkas in a potential Senate trial. Green, the Homeland Security chairman, rolled out a separate resolution naming himself and the 10 other GOP managers.
The others were Foreign Affairs Chairman Mike McCaul of Texas, who previously was Homeland Security chairman; Rep. Michael Guest of Mississippi, the Homeland panel’s vice chair; Rep. Andrew Garbarino of New York; Rep. August Pfluger of Texas; Rep. Laurel Lee of Florida; and five Freedom Caucus members: Reps. Andy Biggs of Arizona, Clay Higgins of Louisiana, Ben Cline of Virginia, Harriet Hageman of Wyoming, and Greene of Georgia.