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Opinion: The GOP’s ridiculous move to impeach Mayorkas

Editor’s Note: Raul A. Reyes is an attorney and a member of the USA Today board of contributors. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion on CNN.

The House Committee on Homeland Security voted early Wednesday to advance its articles of impeachment against Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. The two articles charge Mayorkas with committing high crimes and misdemeanors for having allegedly “breached public trust” as well as his “willful and systemic” refusal to enforce immigration law.

Raul A. Reyes - CNN
Raul A. Reyes - CNN

Committee Chairman Mark Green, a Republican from Tennessee, said that the panel had “exhausted all other options to hold Secretary Mayorkas accountable” and that “Congress must exercise its constitutional duty and impeach him.” The move Wednesday paves the way for a vote before the full House soon.

While our broken immigration system is a serious matter, this impeachment push is not. There is no legitimate basis for impeaching Mayorkas, and House Republicans have not presented any evidence that he has violated the law. Instead, they are on the verge of abusing one of the most powerful mechanisms of government to score political points, potentially setting a dangerous precedent.

The Constitution provides for the impeachment of a “federal officer” for “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” It is this latter category on which Republicans base the case against Mayorkas. Their 20-page resolution laying out the grounds for impeachment reads like a laundry list of all the Biden administration immigration policies that Republicans don’t like, such as paroling large numbers of migrants into the country.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas appears before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs in April. - Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas appears before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs in April. - Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

But these grievances amount to policy disputes, not a basis for removing a Cabinet officer. That’s why legal experts, including scholar Jonathan Turley, have concluded that there is no valid impeachment case here.

It’s a stretch for House Republicans to accuse Mayorkas of “breach of public trust” on immigration when the secretary has been involved in negotiating a bipartisan immigration deal in the Senate. He has testified before Congress more than any other Cabinet member (27 times in 35 months), including before the House Homeland Security Committee in November, according to a Department of Homeland Security memo blasting the impeachment inquiry.

The historical record concerning the impeachment of a Cabinet officer does not support House Republicans’ efforts. At the Constitutional Convention in 1787George Mason pushed for the inclusion of “maladministration” as grounds for impeachment, yet fellow delegates shot down his idea. Moreover, only one US Cabinet officer has ever been impeached.

In 1876, Secretary of War William Belknap resigned after being accused of bribery and using his office for personal gain. His impeachment occurred after he left office, so his circumstances differ from those of Mayorkas. Still, the fact that the Homeland Security secretary would be the first Cabinet officer impeached in nearly 150 years should give House Republicans pause. If they pursue impeachment proceedings against Mayorkas, it could set the stage for years of similar stunts by both parties.

Legalities and precedent aside, consider the practical impact of impeaching Mayorkas. In the unlikely event that the House of Representatives voted to impeach him and then the Democratic-controlled Senate convicted and removed him from office, the president would appoint someone else to carry out his immigration policies. So why are House Republicans devoting so much time and energy to what is basically an exercise in political theater?

Perhaps still smarting over the two impeachments of former President Donald Trump, House Republicans seem to be using Mayorkas as a stand-in for lashing out at President Joe Biden. It’s ironic that some of the same conservative lawmakers who argued in favor of a high bar for impeaching Trump now seem to favor a much lower standard when it comes to Mayorkas.

What an insult to the first Latino Homeland Security secretary that the committee’s resolution describes his conduct as a “threat” to national and border security and “the safety of the American people.” Indeed, a group of prominent Miami Cuban Americans have protested to GOP leadership over what they see as the unfair targeting of the highest-ranking Cuban American in government.

No one disputes that our immigration system is dysfunctional, or that there is a crisis at our southern border. In December, federal authorities reported encountering a record number of migrants at the border each day amid an unprecedented influx of unauthorized arrivals. Over the course of that month, there were at times more than 10,000 migrants crossing daily.

But impeaching Mayorkas will not have any effect on these troubling numbers. Any proceedings against him will only be a distraction from the humanitarian crisis at our doorstep and the lack of leadership in Congress.

Remember, it is the job of Congress to overhaul our immigration system by passing legislation, a responsibility that House Republicans have abdicated in favor of grandstanding and rhetoric. Just last week, Speaker Mike Johnson warned that any potential border deal negotiated in the Senate would likely be “dead on arrival” in the House of Representatives — without even knowing for sure what the potential deal might contain.

The impeachment process is not intended to be used as a political weapon. The move to impeach Mayorkas is a pointless sideshow and deserves to fail.

This article has been updated with news of the House committee vote on Wednesday.

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