Why 3 California Republicans helped block impeachment vote of Homeland Security Secretary

Three California Republicans helped House Democrats block an impeachment vote of President Joe Biden’s Homeland Security Secretary Monday, the latest skirmish in a dispute involving policy disagreements, not criminal wrongdoing.

Eight House Republicans joined with all Democrats to head off a floor vote by sending articles of impeachment to the committee that’s already investigating Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. The Homeland Security Committee has been looking into whether Mayorkas has been derelict in managing the U.S.-Mexico border but has not yet recommended impeachment, let alone a House vote.

The Constitution reserves impeachment for officials who have committed treason, bribery and “other high crimes and misdemeanors.”

California Republican Reps. Tom McClintock, John Duarte and Darrell Issa were among the eight Republicans who joined Democrats to stall the vote. Duarte, R-Modesto, and Issa, R-Vista, didn’t rule out eventually voting to impeach, but not before the committee made a recommendation.

McClintock, R-Elk Grove, said in a statement that while Mayorkas was the “worst cabinet secretary in American history, guilty of malfeasance, neglect of duty and maladministration,” those weren’t grounds for impeachment as laid out by the Constitution’s authors. Instead, he said, this effort was based on policy differences.

“The founders specifically rejected terms like malfeasance, neglect of duty and maladministration as grounds for impeachment,” McClintock said, “because they feared such vague terms would be twisted for political ends and render the executive subordinate to the legislative branch.”

McClintock said, “politicians have tried to stretch the meaning of ‘high crimes and misdemeanors’ to apply to political disagreements, and that is antithetical to the fundamental architecture of the Constitution.”

McClintock leads the House’s subcommittee on immigration and border security.

Policy disagreements

On Monday, the House voted 209-201 to put off coinsideration of impeachment articles put forward by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green, R-Ga.. She claims that Mayorkas violated his oath of office by failing to curtail migrant crossings at the southern border.

Migrants were apprehended crossing the border this year at a rate higher than any time since 1960, when officials started tracking the data, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. This is the third record-setting year in a row, as immigration globally is at historic highs.

Greene’s impeachment articles allege that Mayorkas violated a constitutional clause that guarantees states’ protection against “invasion,” in this case by immigrants illegally crossing the border. She claims Mayorkas broke a 2006 law that requires the government to maintain “operational control” over the U.S.-Mexico border: The Secure Fence Act says the border is only operationally secure if no people or contraband improperly enter the country.

Mayorkas has said that no administration has fully stopped illegal crossing of people or contraband across the border since the law passed.

The Department of Homeland Security slammed the impeachment articles and investigation, saying it was meritless, a waste of time and based on political disagreements.

“Secretary Mayorkas continues to be laser-focused on the safety and security of our nation,” a Department of Homeland Security spokesperson said in a statement Tuesday. “This baseless attack is completely without merit and a harmful distraction from our critical national security priorities.”

House committee investigating border

Since Republicans took a slim House majority in January, those angry over border policy have threatened investigations into the Biden administration’s management of illegal immigration.

But Greene’s impeachment attempt is an example of how lawmakers with objections to policy have increasingly turned to a tool meant to condemn and remove officials who face credible accusations of criminal wrongdoing. Using impeachment to condemn political decisions in Congress would be unprecedented.

The Homeland Security Committee started interviewing former officials in June to try to build a case that Mayorkas was in “dereliction of duty.” The committee has not recommended impeachment so far; no impeachment hearings have been held.

Issa argued that the Homeland Security Committee would find Mayorkas deserves impeachment. But that there must be a trial first.

“I will be requesting my opportunity to testify before the committee and make my case why Sec. Mayorkas is the worst to ever hold his job and why impeachment would be a fitting punishment,” Issa said in a statement.

Duarte told Axios before the vote that he would not support voting on impeachment that “hasn’t gone through regular order.” Holding the vote would also eat up time as the House worked to avoid a government shutdown before a Friday deadline: “We don’t have time to waste,” Duarte said.

The Bee reached out to a spokesperson for Duarte.

Greene, who is on the committee, said on the House floor Monday that it has slow-walked her impeachment articles.

“We have been waiting for regular order for six months, and the committee of jurisdiction in Congress has failed to act,” Greene said. “My articles of impeachment sit collecting dust with the others while Americans die every single day.”

Impeachment considerations

It’s highly unlikely Mayorkas would be removed from office even if the House voted to impeach him. That right belongs to the Senate, which has a slim Democratic majority.

Mayorkas would be the second cabinet official in history to be impeached. The first was Secretary of War William Belknap in 1876, after being accused of improper conduct while administering government contracts. He was acquitted by the Senate.

The House recently launched an impeachment inquiry into Biden over his son Hunter’s overseas business deals. The White House has denied wrongdoing and experts have called it the weakest presidential inquiry in history.

Having to vote on impeaching a Biden cabinet secretary without a formal inquiry could have been politically risky for vulnerable Republicans, particularly ones in districts that the Democratic president won in 2020. Five of the 18 “Biden-won” GOP districts are in California.

And voting on impeachment this week would have set off hours of debate while the House rushes to avert a fourth partial government shutdown in a decade. Funding for Homeland Security is on table.

Mayorkas has testified before Congress eight times this year, recently pleading with Congress for supplemental funding for the department.

“Every day, the 260,000 men and women of the Department of Homeland Security enforce our laws, secure our border, and safeguard our communities,” Mayorkas said in a November Senate hearing, noting actions to combat the illicit trade of fentanyl, remove noncitizens, arrest international criminal leaders, rebuild communities after disasters and prevent attacks.

“They do all of this, and much more, despite being perennially underfunded and inadequately resourced,” Mayorkas said.