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How a California Republican helped tank Mayorkas' impeachment vote

Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., speaks as the House of Representatives debates the articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2019. (House Television via AP)
Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Elk Grove), seen in 2019, said Wednesday that his party's move to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas threatened to create a dangerous precedent. (House Television via AP)

California Republican Rep. Tom McClintock said Wednesday that he’d bucked his party’s effort to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas because it would have cheapened the use of the greatest punishment Congress can impose.

“It dumbs down the standard of impeachment to a point where it will become a constant fixture in our national life every time the White House is held by one party and the Congress by another,” McClintock told The Times on Wednesday. “That’s exactly what the American Founders feared, and that’s why they were very careful to specify narrow limits to its use.”

Tuesday evening’s failed 214-216 vote was a stunning setback for House Republicans, who had been signaling plans to impeach Mayorkas since they gained control of the chamber last year.

A stalwart conservative from Elk Grove, McClintock has been known as a constitutional originalist who is willing to break with his party when he feels it is necessary. That has included supporting marijuana legalization and opposing the GOP’s 2017 tax bill because it curtailed the popular state and local tax deduction, also known as SALT.

“I’ve learned over the years, if you’re going to be an outlier, you better be damn sure you’re right, and I took the time and I’m damn sure I’m right,” he said Wednesday.

McClintock explained his reasoning in a 10-page memo early Tuesday before the impeachment failed.

In the memo, he said the two articles of impeachment “fail to identify an impeachable crime that Mayorkas has committed” and “in effect ... stretch and distort the Constitution in order to hold the administration accountable for stretching and distorting the law.”

The articles accuse the Homeland Security chief of failing to properly enforce the nation’s immigration laws and of breaching public trust.

Republicans blame him for ending immigration policies that were in place during the Trump administration and for enacting new immigration policies under President Biden that they say have encouraged more people to come to the U.S.

The White House has argued that a Cabinet secretary should not be impeached over a policy disagreement and that the policies in place address immigration within the scope of the budget that Congress has approved.

McClintock says that new laws or more money won’t help, and that if voters are unhappy with immigration policy, they need to give Republicans control of the government.

“This problem will not be fixed by passing bills that won’t be signed or laws that won’t be enforced, or funds that will be used only to admit illegal aliens and not to expel them,” he said. “And it won’t be fixed by replacing one left-wing official with another.”

The failure of the vote to impeach Mayorkas was a surprise, caused by a combination of GOP absences on the floor Tuesday, the “no” votes of four Republicans, and the unexpected arrival of a shoeless Democrat in scrubs, straight out of surgery at a local hospital.

One of the GOP votes against impeachment was a tactical move by Rep. Blake Moore of Utah, vice chair of the House Republican Conference. If a member of leadership votes no, they can bring the issue back up at a later date.

Speaker Mike Johnson of Louisiana emphasized Wednesday that while the failure was a setback, he planned to renew the effort to impeach Mayorkas.

“Democracy is messy. We live in a time of divided government. We have a razor-thin margin here and every vote counts,” Johnson said. “We will pass those articles of impeachment. We’ll do it on the next round.”

Another Republican opposed to the impeachment, Rep. Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin, was being pressured to change his mind as the vote was taking place.

McClintock said House leadership and fellow Republican lawmakers hadn’t similarly pressured him.

“They all have been very respectful and recognize the position that I’ve taken is in support of our Constitution and the process that makes this government run,” he told The Times.

Still, he faced criticism after the vote from hard-right Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, who had brought the articles of impeachment.

“He’s failing his oath of office,” she said of McClintock. “He needs to grow some courage and read the room. The room is our country and the American people are fed up. ... He needs to do the right thing.”

In a C-SPAN interview on Wednesday, McClintock pushed back.

“Instead of reading the room, I would suggest that maybe she read the Constitution that she took an oath to support and defend,” he said of Greene. “The Constitution very clearly lays out the grounds for impeachment. This dumbs down those grounds dramatically and would set a precedent that could be turned against the conservatives on the Supreme Court or a future Republican administration the moment the Democrats take control of the Congress.”

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.