House Republicans taking a key vote toward impeaching Mayorkas as border becomes 2024 campaign issue
LISA MASCARO and REBECCA SANTANA
WASHINGTON (AP) -- House Republicans are ready to take a key vote Tuesday toward impeaching Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas over what they call his "willful and systematic" refusal to enforce immigration laws as border security becomes a top 2024 election issue.
The Homeland Security Committee is pushing through a day-long hearing on two articles of impeachment against Mayorkas, a rare charge against a Cabinet official unseen in nearly 150 years, as Republicans make GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump's hard-line deportation approach to immigration their own.
"The actions and decisions of Secretary Mayorkas have left us with no other option but to proceed with articles of impeachment," said Chairman Mark Green, R-Tenn.
The articles charge that Mayorkas "willfully and systematically refused to comply with Federal immigration laws" amid a record surge of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border and that he has "breached the public trust" in his claims to Congress that the border is secure. A committee vote would send the articles to the full House for a vote as soon as next week.
"We cannot allow this man to remain in office any longer," Green said.
With an unusual personal appeal, Mayorkas wrote in a letter to the committee that it should be working with the Biden administration to update the nation's "broken and outdated" immigration laws for the 21st century and an era of record global migration.
"We need a legislative solution and only Congress can provide it," Mayorkas wrote in the pointed letter to the panel's chairman.
Mayorkas never testified on his own behalf during the rushed impeachment proceedings — he and the committee couldn't agree on a date — but drew on his own background as a child brought to the U.S. by his parents fleeing Cuba and on his career spent prosecuting criminals.
"Your false accusations do not rattle me and do not divert me" from public service, he wrote.
Green, the Republican committee chair, disparaged Mayorkas's letter as an "11th-hour response" to the committee that was "inadequate and unbecoming of a Cabinet secretary."
Rarely has a Cabinet member faced impeachment's bar of "high crimes and misdemeanors" and Democrats on the panel called the proceedings a stunt and a sham that could set a chilling precedent for other civil servants snared in policy disputes by lawmakers who disagree with the president's approach.
"This is a terrible day for the committee, the United States, the Constitution and our great country," said Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, the committee's ranking Democrat.
Referring to Trump's campaign slogan, Thompson said the "MAGA-led impeachment of Secretary Mayorkas is a baseless sham."
The House's proceedings against Mayorkas have created an oddly split-screen Capitol Hill, as the Senate works intently with the secretary on a bipartisan border security package that is now on life support.
The package being negotiated by the senators with Mayorkas could emerge as the most consequential bipartisan immigration proposal in a decade. Or it could collapse in political failure as Republicans, and some Democrats, run from the effort.
Trump, on the campaign trail and in private talks, has tried to squelch the deal. "I'd rather have no bill than a bad bill," Trump said over the weekend in Las Vegas.
President Joe Biden, in his own campaign remarks in South Carolina, said if Congress sends him a bill with emergency authority he'll "shut down the border right now" to get migration under control.
"I've done all I can do," Biden told reporters Tuesday before departing for a campaign-related trip to Florida. "Give me the power" through legislation, which he said is something he's asked "from the very day I got in office."
The Republicans are focused on the secretary's handling of the southern border, which has experienced an increasing number of migrants over the past year, many seeking asylum in the U.S., at a time when drug cartels are using the border with Mexico to traffic people and ship deadly fentanyl into the states.
Rep, Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., a Trump ally often mentioned as vice presidential pick, called it an "invasion."
Republicans contend that the Biden administration and Mayorkas either got rid of policies in place under Trump that had controlled migration or enacted policies of their own that encouraged migrants from around the world to come to the U.S. illegally via the southern border.
Speaker Mike Johnson said Biden and Mayorkas have "created a catastrophe" on the border, and he criticized the emerging Senate package. The GOP leader said the president is now trying to turn the blame back on Congress for failing to update immigration laws.
The Republicans also accused Mayorkas of lying to Congress, pointing to comments about the border being secure or about vetting of Afghans airlifted to the U.S. after military withdrawal from their country.
"It's high time" for impeachment, said Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, who called Mayorkas the "architect" of the border problems. "He has what's coming to him."
The House impeachment hearings against Mayorkas sprinted ahead in January while the Republicans' separate impeachment inquiry into Biden over the business dealings over his son Hunter Biden dragged.
Democrats argue that Mayorkas is acting under his legal authority at the department and that the criticisms against him do not rise to the level of impeachment.
House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York called the proceedings a "political stunt" ordered up by Trump and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., a Trump ally, who pushed the resolution forward toward the votes.
During the hearing, Rep. Robert Garcia, D-Calif., pointed to Trump's comments echoing Adolf Hitler that immigrants are "poisoning the blood" of the U.S. and to his proposals for militarizing the border as extreme, arguing the impeachment proceedings were "all about trying to get Donald Trump re-elected."
It's unclear if House Republicans will have the support from their ranks to go through with the impeachment after a committee vote, especially with their slim majority and with Democrats expected to vote against it.
Last year, eight House Republicans voted to shelve the impeachment resolution proposed by Greene rather than send it along to the committee, though many of them have since signaled they would be open to it.
If the House does agree to impeach Mayorkas, the charges would next to go the Senate for a trial. In 1876, the House impeached Defense Secretary William Belknap over kickbacks in government contracts, but the Senate acquitted him in a trial.
Associated Press writer Josh Boak contributed to this report.