Saturday, June 15, 2024

House impeaches first cabinet secretary in over a century in ‘blatant act of unconstitutional partisanship,’ says Biden

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The U.S. House voted Tuesday to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, with the Republican majority determined to punish the Biden administration over its handling of the U.S-Mexico border after failing last week in a politically embarrassing setback.

The evening roll call proved tight, with Speaker Mike Johnson’s threadbare GOP majority unable to handle many defectors or absences in the face of staunch Democratic opposition to impeaching Mayorkas, the first Cabinet secretary facing charges in nearly 150 years.

In a historic rebuke, the House impeached Mayorkas 214-213. With the return of Majority Leader Steve Scalise to bolster the GOP’s numbers after being away from Washington for cancer care and a Northeastern storm impacting some others, Republicans recouped — despite dissent from their own ranks.

President Joe Biden called it a “blatant act of unconstitutional partisanship that has targeted an honorable public servant in order to play petty political games.”

The charges against Mayorkas next go to the Senate for a trial, but neither Democratic nor Republican senators have shown interest in the matter and it may be indefinitely shelved to a committee.

In a frantic scene of vote-tallying on the House floor, the GOP effort to impeach Mayorkas over his handling of the southern border took on an air of political desperation as Republicans struggle to make good on their priorities.

Mayorkas faced two articles of impeachment filed by the Homeland Security Committee arguing that he “willfully and systematically” refused to enforce existing immigration laws and that he breached the public trust by lying to Congress and saying the border was secure.

But critics of the impeachment effort said the charges against Mayorkas amount to a policy dispute over Biden’s border policy, hardly rising to the Constitution’s bar of high crimes and misdemeanors.

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 former President Donald 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.”

Border security has shot to the top of campaign issues, with Trump, the Republican front-runner for the presidential nomination, insisting he will launch “the largest domestic deportation operation in American history” if he retakes the White House.

Various House Republicans have prepared legislation to begin deporting migrants who were temporarily allowed into the U.S. under the Biden administration’s policies, many as they await adjudication of asylum claims.

“We have no choice,” Trump said in stark language at a weekend rally in South Carolina.

At the same time, Johnson rejected a bipartisan Senate border security package but has been unable to advance Republicans’ own proposal, which is a nonstarter in the Senate.

Three Republican representatives broke who ranks last week over the Mayorkas impeachment — Ken Buck of Colorado, Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin and Tom McClintock of California — all did so again Tuesday. With a 219-212 majority, Johnson had few votes to spare.

Several leading conservative scholars along with former Homeland Secretary secretaries from both Republican and Democratic administrations have dismissed the Mayorkas impeachment as unwarranted or a waste of time.

Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland said what the Republicans “have succeeded in doing is degrading and tarnishing the constitutional meaning of impeachment.”

Mayorkas is not the only Biden administration official the House Republicans want to impeach. They have filed legislation to impeach a long list including Vice President Kamala Harris, Attorney General Merrick Garland, FBI Director Christopher Wray and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

Never before has a sitting Cabinet secretary been impeached, and it was nearly 150 years ago that the House voted to impeach President Ulysses S. Grant’s secretary of war, William Belknap, over a kickback scheme in government contracts. He resigned before the vote.

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.”

Johnson and the Republicans have pushed back, arguing that the Biden administration could take executive actions, as Trump did, to stop the number of crossings — though the courts have questioned and turned back some of those efforts.

“We always explore what options are available to us that are permissible under the law,” Mayorkas said.

Last week’s failed vote to impeach Mayorkas — a surprise outcome rarely seen on such a high-profile issue — was a stunning display in the chamber that has been churning through months of GOP chaos since the ouster of the previous House speaker.

At the time, Rep. Al Green, D-Texas, who had been hospitalized for emergency abdominal surgery, made a surprise arrival, wheeled into the chamber in scrubs and socks to vote against it — leaving the vote tied and leading to its failure.

“Obviously, you feel good when you can make a difference,” said Green, describing his painstaking route from hospital bed to the House floor. “All I did was what I was elected to do, and that was to cast my vote on the issues of our time, using the best judgment available to me.”

Republican holdout Gallagher, who had served as a Marine, announced over the weekend he would not be seeking reelection in the fall, joining a growing list of serious-minded Republican lawmakers heading for the exits.

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Associated Press writers Rebecca Santana and Kevin Freking contributed to this report.

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