House Republicans have failed to impeach Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas.
Four Republicans joined all of the Democrats in voting down the impeachment effort, with the final tally being 216 to 214. Republican Reps Ken Buck of Colorado, Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin, and Tom McClintock of California voted against the measure.
Utah Republican Rep Blake Moore changed his vote from yes to no late in the voting, a procedural move to allow the GOP majority to reconsider the measure at a later date under House rules.
The last time a cabinet official was impeached was in 1876 – 148 years ago. Mr Mayorkas faced accusations that he failed to enforce the existing laws governing immigration into the US and that he obstructed a House Republican probe into the policies of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). As the Democrats control the Senate, any conviction of Mr Mayorkas was always unlikely.
Republican Florida Rep Anna Paulina Luna told The Independent just as the vote came in that “it's gonna come back up next week and it's gonna pass then”. She went on to note that Republican Rep Steve Scalise was absent as he’s receiving cancer treatment and that his support would allow the bill to pass.
She also asked if it was worth it to expel former Republican New York Rep George Santos, which further restricted the already slim majority for the House Republicans.
Georgia Rep Marjorie Taylor Greene told The Independent, “We're bringing it back next week. Democrats maxed out their votes. That is as many no votes as they had. But we were still missing Steve Scalise and we can bring this back to the floor for another vote”.
She added that she thinks the Republicans who voted against the impeachment will “hear from their constituents and hopefully maybe they change their mind over the weekend”.
Mr Buck told The Independent that he thinks the measure will pass on Wednesday with Mr Scalise back in the chamber.
“I think you have the vote because there are a lot of Americans who are very upset, frustrated, mad about what's happening. And so the vote was to let them know we hear them,” he said, but he added, “I think it's improper to have an impeachment vote on a messaging bill”.
Mr Mayorkas is in charge of border enforcement as well as immigration policies such as the asylum process in addition to the possible detention of migrants. As such, many Republicans view him as the prime target for their frustration at the rapid rise of border crossings. But they have struggled to provide evidence that Mr Mayorkas was guilty of high crimes and misdemeanours – the constitutional standard for impeachment.
Democratic Texas Rep Gregorio Casar told The Independent after the vote that “it's sad that there aren't even more people that are willing to stand up to the Marjorie Taylor Greene faction of the party”.
He added that House Republicans aren’t “even pretending to have anything impeachable”.
“I think we should actually just be surprised that this isn't even a thing,” he said.
Republican Rep Dan Meuser told The Independent that “Mayorkas has performed many impeachable offences. And it doesn't make any sense – the border is a disaster. People are dying ... because this guy won't enforce the laws that exist”.
“Now it's Joe Biden's fault. He calls the shots, but ... if he had any honour he'd resign,” he added.
The White House has long panned the GOP-led impeachment effort against Mr Mayorkas as unserious and without legal or constitutional merit, with aides to Mr Biden pointing to a recent Washington Post op-ed denouncing the proceedings as something that would “debase the House, not secure the border”.
Even the Office of Management and Budget weighed in with an official Statement of Administration Policy against the impeachment resolution stating that the Biden administration “strongly opposes” the measure because it “clearly fails to meet the Constitution’s threshold for impeachable offenses” and misuses the House’s power of impeachment “as a device for members of an opposing political party to harass Executive Branch officials over policy disputes”.
The budget office described Mr Mayorkas as “a Cuban immigrant who came to the United States with his family as political refugees” who “has spent more than two decades serving his country with honour and integrity in a decorated career in law enforcement and public service”.
“From his time in the Justice Department as a US Attorney to his service as Deputy Secretary and now Secretary of Homeland Security, he has upheld the rule of law faithfully and has demonstrated a deep commitment to the values that make our Nation great. Impeaching Secretary Mayorkas would be an unprecedented and unconstitutional act of political retribution that would do nothing to solve the challenges our Nation faces in securing the border,” it said.
The OMB statement also said the House’s “purported grounds for impeachment have no basis in law or fact,” adding later that impeaching Mr Mayorkas would “trivialise this solemn constitutional power and invite more partisan abuse of this authority in the future” and “do nothing to solve the challenges we face in securing our Nation’s borders, nor ... provide the funding the President has repeatedly requested for more Border Patrol agents, immigration judges, and cutting-edge tools to detect and stop fentanyl at the border”.
In a statement, White House spokesperson Ian Sams said there was “clearly” a “bipartisan agreement that this baseless, unconstitutional impeachment stunt should fail” based on the vote totals on Tuesday.
“House Republicans ought to realize that extreme political stunts like this are a waste of time, and instead join the President, Secretary Mayorkas, and Republicans and Democrats who want to work together to deliver real solutions that actually strengthen border security,” he added.
The failed impeachment vote comes after House Republicans roundly rejected a bipartisan agreement negotiated in the Senate that would put in place additional border security measures as well as restrictions to legal immigration in exchange for aid to Ukraine and Israel, as well as money for other national security priorities.
Rep Henry Cuellar, a Texas Democrat who represents a border district, told The Independent before the vote that Republicans are “saying that they want to impeach him for not doing his job, but at the same time, they’re rejecting a border bill that would secure the border”.
Connecticut Democratic Rep Rosa DeLauro told The Independent that the impeachment vote was a “political stunt”.
“There's no grounds ... there are no high crimes and misdemeanors. So it’s just partisan politics,” she added.
“This is what this crowd is about ... they can’t govern. They are not willing to govern ... they're incapable of doing it. And it's nothing about a bipartisan vote ... in terms of dealing with the border and coming to a conclusion. They said they wanted one, the Senate produced one and then they said, ‘Oh, no, we don't want it’,” she added.
Mr Casar said: “I think that this should be an important lesson for Democrats that we aren't actually negotiating with good faith partners on the Republican side on immigration issues.”
He added that a decade ago, congressional leaders could have made a difference on immigration issues, but that now “we're like a world away from that kind of conversation”.
“The idea that anything in that, in that so-called Senate deal was going to actually reduce the flow of migration, it’s just wrong on his face in the first place, but the entire foundation of that so-called negotiation was flawed from the beginning, just like this entire Mayorkas impeachment has been flawed from the beginning,” Mr Casar argued when speaking to The Independent on Tuesday night.
“I hope that the only good thing that could come out of the last few months and those failed negotiations is maybe we actually sit down and have a serious conversation about what's happening in the Western Hemisphere,” he added.
Congress has to approve funding for new programmes and policies that close current gaps in the system, some of which were addressed by the bipartisan proposal rejected by House Republicans, who appear to be using the impeachment process to keep the focus on so far unsubstantiated allegations of wrongdoing of both President Joe Biden and Mr Mayorkas.
The impeachment proceedings against Mr Biden have similarly failed to unearth any major allegations of wrongdoing by the president.
The base of the Republican party is strongly motivated by the issue of immigration, with Democrats and independents also ranking it fairly high among issues they care about, according to recent polling.
Democrats have argued that the impeachment process is politically motivated and an attempt to distract from former President Donald Trump’s legal problems.
Ahead of the impeachment vote, a number of Republicans shared their frustration with the process.
“They’re taking a fast track to using impeachment without doing their homework,” North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis told The Hill late last month.
Mr McClintock wrote in a letter on Tuesday that he wouldn’t back the impeachment of Mr Mayorkas, asking: “Do Republicans really wish to establish an expansive view of impeachment that will surely be turned against conservatives on the Supreme Court or a future Republican president if Congress changes hands?”