US House votes to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas

After motion passes 214-213, Biden pans ‘unconstitutional partisanship’ and ‘petty political games’; Senate Majority Democrat Schumer calls it a ‘sham’

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas testifies during a House Committee on Homeland Security Hearing on Worldwide Threats to the Homeland on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, November 15, 2023. (SAUL LOEB / AFP)
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas testifies during a House Committee on Homeland Security Hearing on Worldwide Threats to the Homeland on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, November 15, 2023. (SAUL LOEB / AFP)

WASHINGTON — On its second try, the US House of Representatives impeached Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas by a single vote, in a process some Jewish groups said was tainted by antisemitic rhetoric.

The impeachment of Mayorkas, who is Jewish, passed Tuesday on party lines by a vote of 214-213, with three Republicans breaking ranks. The effort, however, is likely going nowhere, because the Democratic-led Senate may not take it up, and if it does, there are nowhere near the 67 votes necessary to convict and remove Mayorkas, the first cabinet secretary impeached in nearly 150 years.

Lawmakers passed two articles accusing him of “willful and systemic refusal” to enforce immigration law and “breach of public trust.”

The first attempt at impeachment last week narrowly failed, a setback for House Speaker Mike Johnson, the Louisiana Republican whose short tenure has been marred by several lost votes.

Jewish groups have expressed alarm at the impeachment process, noting repeated invocations during the impeachment hearings of the Great Replacement, a baseless conspiracy theory whose original version claims Jews are behind an effort to replace the populations of majority-white countries with immigrants of color.

Following Tuesday’s impeachment vote, Amy Spitalnick, the CEO of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, a liberal community relations body, noted in a statement how the theory has in recent years spurred mass murders, including a number targeting Jews.

“We’ve seen the deadly consequences of the ‘invasion’ and ‘replacement’ rhetoric that underpinned this impeachment effort – directly fueling violence in Charlottesville, Pittsburgh, Poway, El Paso, Buffalo, and beyond,” Spitalnick said, referencing a string of attacks by white nationalists in recent years. “This dehumanizing bigotry puts all our lives at risk, yet House leaders once again cynically doubled down on it to score political points while making our communities less safe.”

This image from House Television shows the vote total after the House voted to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas over the Biden administration’s handling of the US-Mexico border, at the US Capitol in Washington, February 13, 2024. (House Television via AP)

A record number of migrants have been crossing the US-Mexico border recently, and Republicans say the border is out of control because Mayorkas is willfully ignoring existing laws. They say amounts to the high crime and misdemeanors necessary for impeachment.

“Secretary Mayorkas has willfully and consistently refused to comply with federal immigration laws, fueling the worst border catastrophe in American history,” Johnson said in a statement after the vote.

Democrats say Mayorkas is carrying out a policy that does not meet any criminal standard, and that he has scored successes.

“Make no mistake — the Secretary has not committed an impeachable offense,” Rep. Jerry Nadler, the Jewish New Yorker who is the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, said on X, formerly Twitter. “Republicans don’t want to fix the border, they want to do Trump’s bidding and use it as a campaign issue.”

Former US president Donald Trump, who is running again this year, urged Republicans to impeach Mayorkas. He also urged his party to reject a bipartisan border security compromise negotiated in the Senate.

Mayorkas, who did not appear to testify before the impeachment proceedings, put the border crisis squarely on Congress for failing to update immigration laws during a time of global migration.

“There is no question that we have a challenge, a crisis at the border,” Mayorkas said over the weekend on NBC. “And there is no question that Congress needs to fix it.”

This image from House Television shows House Speaker Mike Johnson of La., banging the gavel after he announced the House voted to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas over the Biden administration’s handling of the U.S-Mexico border, at the US Capitol in Washington, February 13, 2024. (House Television via AP)

The timing of the vote was significant. If a special election Tuesday in a Long Island district sends a Democrat to the House, impeachment likely would not have been possible.

Conservatives in the House of Representatives blame Mayorkas for a surge in illegal entries from Mexico that they have called a “humanitarian catastrophe.”

Republicans botched the first impeachment effort by wrongly anticipating how many lawmakers would be present on each side and losing by just one vote.

Tuesday’s rerun was just as close, but the return of Republican House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, who had been receiving cancer treatment, swung the chamber the other way.

“Next to a declaration of war, impeachment is arguably the most serious authority given to the House and we have treated this matter accordingly,” said House Speaker Johnson. “Since this secretary refuses to do the job that the Senate confirmed him to do, the House must act.”

Biden immediately rebuked Republicans for what he termed a “blatant act of unconstitutional partisanship that has targeted an honorable public servant in order to play petty political games.”

“We will continue pursuing real solutions to the challenges Americans face, and House Republicans have to decide whether to join us to solve the problem or keep playing politics with the border,” he added.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Democrat-New York, speaks to reporters at the Capitol in Washington, February 13, 2024. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

The outcome was unprecedented as the House has only ever impeached one other cabinet official — Secretary of War William Belknap in 1876 — and that was over serious allegations of corruption rather than a straightforward policy disagreement.

Seen as the political equivalent of an indictment, the rebuke is largely symbolic, however, as Mayorkas is certain to be acquitted at his trial in the Democratic-led Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Democrat-New York, called the case against Mayorkas a “sham impeachment” and a “new low for House Republicans.”

The vote came amid a showdown between the House and the Senate over curbing a surge in illegal immigration, which hit a record 10,000 apprehensions a day at the US-Mexico border in December.

Pandora’s box’

House Republicans have been accused of acting in bad faith in the impeachment, especially after coming out against a bipartisan deal hammered out in the upper chamber that would have imposed the toughest asylum and border policies in decades.

“House Republicans will be remembered by history for trampling on the Constitution for political gain rather than working to solve the serious challenges at our border,” said Mia Ehrenberg, a spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Impeachment is meant to be a sanction for treason, bribery, and other “high crimes and misdemeanors,” according to the Constitution.

A migrant crosses the US-Mexico border fence before turning himself in to US Border Patrol in Tijuana, Mexico, on December 16, 2018. (Mario Tama/Getty Images/AFP)

Ken Buck, one of three Republicans who voted no in last week’s vote, called the move against Mayorkas a “stunt” while fellow rebel Mike Gallagher said it would “pry open the Pandora’s box of perpetual impeachment.”

Twenty-five legal experts called the push “utterly unjustified” in an open letter and were echoed by constitutional scholars who have spoken in Congress against Trump’s impeachments, including Jonathan Turley and Alan Dershowitz.

House Democrats voted in unison against the impeachment, which was also vehemently opposed by the White House.

Ehrenberg at the DHS accused Republicans of having “falsely smeared a dedicated public servant” without a “shred of evidence.”

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, Republican-Georgia, listens as Republicans on the House Homeland Security Committee move to impeach Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas over the crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border, at the Capitol in Washington, January 30, 2024. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

The Senate is now compelled to at least open a trial, although it could vote to dismiss the articles, dissolve the trial, or refer the articles to a committee.

The House had initially launched an impeachment inquiry into Biden over his son’s business dealings, but instead turned its attention to Mayorkas after Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, an ally of Trump, pushed the debate forward following the panel’s months-long investigation.

Greene, who will serve as an impeachment manager in a potential Senate trial, hugged Scalise afterward and posed for photos with other lawmakers. She said senators “better pay attention to the American people and how they feel, and then they need to read our articles of impeachment.”

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