A House GOP effort to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas failed in embarrassing fashion Tuesday as three Republicans joined Democrats in voting against what would have been the second-ever impeachment of a Cabinet official.
The 214-216 vote is a stunning loss for a GOP that has faced continual pressure from its right flank to impeach a Biden official, even as the party has waffled over which one to focus on.
The failure came about because of the surprise appearance in the chamber of Rep. Al Green (D-Texas), who showed up unexpectedly — having recently had surgery and wearing hospital scrubs and no socks, according to NBC — to vote against the bill.
Republicans entered the vote with two expected GOP “no” votes from Reps. Ken Buck (Colo.) and Tom McClintock (Calif.), but then a third House GOP lawmaker, Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), also voted against impeachment. The surprise “no” vote prompted numerous GOP colleagues to gather around Gallagher for a lengthy conversation before the vote closed.
Democrats at several moments erupted in howls of “order,” asking that the vote be closed when it was poised to fail.
A fourth Republican, Rep. Blake Moore (R-Utah), the vice chair of the GOP conference, then flipped his vote to “no” seconds before the vote closed, a procedural move that allows the conference to bring the legislation back to the floor at a later date.
Republicans say the hope is to bring the legislation to the floor again, when House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.), who is undergoing treatment for cancer, will be able to attend.
“House Republicans fully intend to bring Articles of Impeachment against Secretary Mayorkas back to the floor when we have the votes for passage,” Speaker Mike Johnson’s spokesperson said on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.
In a statement after the loss, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) encouraged Republicans to abandon the effort entirely.
“This baseless impeachment should never have moved forward; it faces bipartisan opposition and legal experts resoundingly say it is unconstitutional. If House Republicans are serious about border security, they should abandon these political games, and instead support the bipartisan national security agreement in the Senate to get DHS the enforcement resources we need,” Mia Ehrenberg, a DHS spokesperson, said in a statement.
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Republicans had accused Mayorkas of “willful and systemic refusal to comply with the law,” claiming he violated immigration laws by failing to detain a sufficient number of migrants.
No administration has ever detained all illegal migrants, and immigration law experts who have weighed the claim determined Mayorkas did not violate any laws.
Republicans also accused him of “breach of public trust.”
A months-long, multipronged investigation into the Biden administration’s border policies by the House Homeland Security Committee preceded the impeachment attempt, but it was Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s (R-Ga.) move to force votes on impeaching Mayorkas late last year that was widely credited for breathing life into the effort and guaranteeing the matter would make it to the House floor.
In a press conference after the vote, Greene characterized the vote as simply a speed bump in the process.
“We knew it was going to be close going in, because our majority is so razor thin. Of course my colleagues that voted no, I think they’ll be hearing from their constituents,” she said.
“So this is not over yet, and we still can bring back Steve Scalise … We look forward to having him come back, and we look forward to him being a solid ‘yes.’”
The vote’s failure could also be a bad sign for those hoping to impeach President Biden, who is the subject of a separate House GOP impeachment inquiry based in large part on his son Hunter Biden’s foreign business dealings. While moderate Republicans agreed to formally authorize the investigation in order to give legal weight to GOP requests, several GOP members have said they have not yet seen evidence of impeachable offenses by the president.
In the Mayorkas impeachment, the skepticism was similarly focused on a failure to make a compelling case.
Republicans who voted against the Mayorkas impeachment articles agreed with Democrats on the failings of the articles, with McClintock writing in a 10-page memo opposing the move that his GOP colleagues “fail to identify an impeachable crime that Mayorkas has committed. In effect, they stretch and distort the Constitution.”
Buck echoed those arguments in an op-ed, aligning with Democrats in casting it as a policy disagreement.
“The failure of the Biden administration to rein in an open border is a national disgrace and will be a stain on his presidential legacy. However, the truth is that this is a policy disagreement masked as an impeachment,” he wrote.
House Homeland Security Chair Mark Green (R-Tenn.) pitched the impeachment vote as a vital use of their lever of power.
“While I do not wish to be standing here presenting these articles, we have exhausted all other options. Our oath to the Constitution now requires us to exercise this solemn duty. Secretary Mayorkas has explicitly refused to comply with the law. His refusal to obey the law has led to the death of our fellow citizens, and he no longer deserves to keep his job,” Green said in opening the debate.
The move highlights the GOP-led House’s approach to the border as it rebuffs a bipartisan Senate deal crafted to stem migration flows in favor of impeachment.
Greene was the second Republican to speak during the debate and told of an “invasion” at the border. She painted migrants as criminals and held Mayorkas personally responsible for every fentanyl death.
“These are people who have completely evaded U.S. authorities and are roaming the interior of the American communities, assaulting, raping, and murdering Americans,” Greene said.
But Democratic leaders faulted the House GOP for turning its back on the Senate deal before it was even unveiled.
“Instead of pursuing a bipartisan compromise, instead of strengthening the security of our border, advancing humane solutions, and doing their jobs, they’re now impeaching the secretary of Homeland Security without a single allegation of any impeachable crime. Not one,” House Minority Whip Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) said on the House floor.
“Impeaching a Cabinet member without any evidence of high crimes or misdemeanors, that is the breach of public trust here.”
Republicans defending the articles did little to address the constitutional issues of their case beyond pushing back against claims they were simply removing the secretary over policy differences.
“People say well, this is a policy difference, but it is not. To faithfully execute the mission, you can have differences in how to do it. To thwart the very execution of that mission, which Secretary Mayorkas has done, is in fact an impeachable offense,” said Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.).
Still, he criticized shortcomings in the GOP approach, arguing President Biden bears ultimate responsibility for the border.
“This is so frustrating because today we are in fact impeaching a pawn. We’re impeaching a pawn for the president. The secretary is being impeached for what he did wrong. He is in fact guilty as alleged. But in fact, he is just part of the high crimes and misdemeanors of the president of the United States,” Issa said.
House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) would later accuse Republicans of targeting Mayorkas as a “Plan B” impeachment that would “satisfy the quest for revenge.”
“So you’ve brought articles of impeachment that are not anchored in reality. You brought articles of impeachment for one simple reason: because you really want to impeach Joe Biden. That’s what you were directed to do by the puppet master, the former president of the United States, Donald Trump,” he said.
“You really want to impeach Joe Biden, but you realize that that is politically unpopular.”
Republicans were furious with the GOP defectors, warning that they’d delivered an unearned political victory to Biden and his Homeland Security chief.
“Shameful,” Rep. Troy Nehls, a Texas Republican, said leaving the chamber.
Democrats, meanwhile, were ecstatic with the surprise win, arguing that it’s an indication that Republicans can’t govern effectively — and have no clear message to take to voters in November, even on the border.
“It shows on our part that Democrats are united in its opposition to the impeachment. And it shows that Republicans are still sending mixed messages,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson (Miss.), chairman of the Homeland Security Committee.
This story was updated at 7:28 p.m.