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As the Senate tries to strike a border deal with Mayorkas, House GOP launches effort to impeach him

Jan 10, 2024, 3:27 AM

FILE - Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas testifies during a hearing of the Senate Appr...

FILE - Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas testifies during a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Committee on Capitol Hill, Nov. 8, 2023, in Washington. House Republicans are marching ahead with impeachment plans, their sights on Mayorkas as "derelict in his duty" over handling of the U.S.-Mexico border. Speaker Mike Johnson gave his nod to Wednesday's hearing at the Homeland Security Committee.(AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Marching ahead with impeachment plans, House Republicans have set their sights on Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who they intend to prove is “derelict in his duty” over handling the surge of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Speaker Mike Johnson gave his nod to Wednesday’s hearing at the Homeland Security Committee, which launches Mayorkas impeachment proceedings at a peculiar political moment: On one side of the Capitol, a bipartisan group of senators has been engaged in almost daily negotiations with Mayorkas over a landmark border security package. On the other, the House wants to remove him from office.

At a new year’s press conference, Rep. Mark Green, the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, stood with Johnson near the border, blamed Mayorkas for the record number of migrant crossings and vowed, “Accountability is coming, I promise.”

The House panel has been circling Mayorkas all year, at times expected to lurch ahead with impeachment proceedings against him as the border crossings hit record highs, topping 10,000 on some days. The number has recently dipped.

But impeaching a Cabinet secretary is rare, having only happened once before in the nation’s history, when the House impeached Defense Secretary William Belknap in 1876 over bribery. Going after an official for a policy dispute, in this instance over the claim that Mayorkas is not upholding immigration laws, is unprecedented.

Green’s committee conducted a multi-part investigation into Mayorkas and the department but kicked the process into high gear when hard-right Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene pushed forward the impeachment resolution after Johnson won the speaker’s gavel following the ouster of Rep. Kevin McCarthy as speaker.

With the House GOP’s impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden, over his son Hunter Biden’s business dealings, lumbering along as lawmakers work to dig up information, the Republicans are sharpening their focus on the border crossings and the probe of Mayorkas.

“I believe Secretary Mayorkas is an abject failure,” Johnson said over the weekend on CBS. “And I think there must be accountability for that.”

It remains to be seen if the House investigation will convince lawmakers that Mayorkas’ conduct rises to the level of the “high crimes and misdemeanors” the Constitution specifies for impeachment.

Many Republicans prefer a return to Donald Trump-era immigration policies, and they blame Biden for taking actions early in his presidency to stop construction of the border wall and end the COVID-19 era restrictions that prevented many migrants from entering the U.S. Both policies had been championed by the former president, who is now the GOP front-runner for the party’s 2024 presidential nomination.

“The evidence documented throughout this report will demonstrate that Mayorkas has been, and continues to be, derelict in the solemn duty to secure the nation’s borders,” the panel’s initial report said.

Green, the chair of the committee, has echoed a baseless racist conspiracy idea known as the “great replacement theory” when he argued recently that Mayorkas’ “intent” by removing fewer migrants than Trump did was to “fundamentally change the population of the United States, and I believe to empower the Democrat party in perpetuity.”

Late Monday, Green said what’s happening on the two sides of the Capitol are “separate,” adding negotiations between Mayorkas and the senators “will go on and hopefully they’ll come to an agreement.”

Ahead of the hearing, the Homeland Security Department released a memo noting that Mayorkas, a former federal prosecutor, and the bipartisan group of senators are working hard to try to find “real solutions” to fix broken immigration laws while the House majority is wasting time on “baseless and pointless political attacks” by trying to impeach him.

Sen. James Lankford, the chief GOP negotiator of the border package, who has been in almost daily negotiations involving Mayorkas, said he understands his colleagues’ frustrations. But he encouraged them to focus as he has on legislation to force Biden’s hand.

“Mayorkas is gearing up President Biden’s policies — that’s what a secretary is going to do,” Lankford told reporters at the Capitol. “So you can swap secretaries, the policies are going to be exactly the same.”

Lankford is briefing House and Senate GOP lawmakers privately Wednesday on the border talks, which hit a setback this week. Senators struggled with certain differences, particularly over parole programs to allow immigrants who claim asylum entry into the U.S. as they await court proceedings to determine their eligibility to remain. Reaching a border deal is key to a broader funding package for Ukraine, Israel and other national security needs.

Over the course of the talks, Mayorkas and Lankford have grown to trust each other as the Cabinet secretary has tried to advocate for an immigration system that brings “order and humaneness,” according to one person familiar with the talks who spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity.

But any goodwill for Mayorkas has not spread to the House, where Republicans are readying their effort to remove him from office. The House Homeland Security Committee plans to hold hearings throughout January with the end goal of impeaching Mayorkas.

As the House proceeds with its various impeachment probes, not all Republicans have been eager for the undertakings.

When Greene forced a snap vote on impeaching Mayorkas in November, eight Republicans voted to put off the final vote by sending it to a committee. And some GOP senators have been caught in a political bind as they try to support, but also distance themselves from, their hard-right colleagues.

While a group of GOP senators Tuesday was calling for a “no confidence” vote on Mayorkas, top Republican leaders have been cool to the impeachment exercises, showing the difficult road ahead.

If the House agrees to impeach Mayorkas, the case would go to trial in the Senate, where it takes a super-majority to convict. In the Grant-era, even Defense Secretary Belknap was acquitted in the Senate trial.

“Does his handling of that meet the threshold of ‘high crimes and misdemeanors’? That’s a question we’ll have to get answered,” said Sen. John Thune, the second-ranking GOP leader in the Senate. “They have a right to look at it. We’ll see where it goes from there.”

___

Associated Press writers Stephen Groves and Farnoush Amiri contributed to this report.

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As the Senate tries to strike a border deal with Mayorkas, House GOP launches effort to impeach him