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House Republicans start process to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Mayorkas

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas is being singled out by House Republicans for the crisis at the southwest border, even as he works with Senate negotiators on a plan to change administration policy.
Chip Somodevilla
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Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas is being singled out by House Republicans for the crisis at the southwest border, even as he works with Senate negotiators on a plan to change administration policy.

Updated January 10, 2024 at 12:07 PM ET

The House Homeland Security committee kicked off a series of hearings on Wednesday that could end with the panel approving articles of impeachment against Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, the top administration official tasked with overseeing the crisis at the southwest border.

"Secretary Mayorkas has brazenly refused to enforce the laws passed by Congress that knowingly made our country less safe. What we are seeing here is a willful violation of his oath of office by Secretary Mayorkas," Homeland Security Chairman Mark Greene, R-Tenn., said at the start of the hearing.

For months, many House conservatives singled out Mayorkas as the chief official to blame for the record numbers of migrants have crossed the U.S.-Mexico border in recent months, and the GOP panel conducted a yearlong probe of his tenure.

The federal agencies tasked with processing migrants and local communities have been overwhelmed by the significant uptick in people fleeing violence in countries in Central and South America. And mayors and governors — including cities and states run by Democrats, where migrants have been transferred by GOP officials like Texas Gov. Greg Abbott — have appealed to the Biden administration for more financial resources and policy reforms.

Wednesday's hearing featured top law enforcement officials from Montana, Missouri and Oklahoma discussing the impact that the situation at the border is having in their states.

Democrats dismiss the process as purely political

Democrats denounced the process, pointing to a media reportabout Greene vowing to GOP donors last April he would impeach Mayorkas.

"This is not a legitimate impeachment. Republicans want to throw political red meat to their base and keep that campaign cash coming. They know their already-razor-thin majority is slipping away and think impeaching Secretary Mayorkas, even though there's absolutely no basis for it, will keep them in control of the House," Rep. Bennie Thompson, the top Democrat on the committee, said.

Additional hearings are expected, and a committee spokesperson told NPR that Mayorkas was invited to appear, but has not responded yet to the invitation. At the end of those hearings the panel is expected to mark up articles of impeachment, but it's unclear what the specific charges House GOP lawmakers will bring.

Greene said at the hearing that Mayorkas' "refusal to follow the law is sufficient grounds for impeachment proceedings." He cited constitutional history, and said the founders did not envision impeachment just for criminal behavior, but "those guilty of such gross incompetence that their conduct had endangered their fellow Americans, betrayed the public trust or represented a neglect of duty."

Senate is unlikely to vote to remove Mayorkas from office

Some Senate Republicans disagree with the strategy of targeting Mayorkas, who is providing technical assistance to a bipartisan group of senators working on legislation to change administration policy to limit who can claim asylum.

Mia Ehrenberg, spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security, said in a written statement that the process was "harmful to the Department and its workforce and undercuts vital work across countless national priorities."

A memo from DHS maintained Mayorkas was enforcing laws, but limitations and an "outdated immigration system" was something Congress could fix. It added that lawmakers should oppose impeachment and "instead work with the Department to keep America safe by properly funding DHS's vital missions and reforming our broken immigration laws."

Oklahoma Sen. Jim Lankford, the leading Republican in those talks, told reporters, "Mayorkas is carrying out President Biden's policies. That's what a secretary going to do, so you can swap secretaries, but the policies are going to be the same."

Thompson ripped the GOP action as a "circus sideshow impeachment," saying to GOP members on the Homeland Security panel, "you can't impeach a Cabinet secretary because you don't like a president's policies. That's not what impeachment is for."

Only one Cabinet official has been impeached in U.S. history: William Belknap, who served as President Ulysses Grant's secretary of war in 1876. He resigned after bribery allegations related to payments he received in return for appointing someone to run a trading post on Native American lands. But the House still impeached him. He was ultimately acquitted by the Senate, after becoming a private citizen.

If the House does approve articles of impeachment against Mayorkas, he's not expected to be removed by the Senate.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Deirdre Walsh is the congress editor for NPR's Washington Desk.