House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mark Green, R-Tenn., and ranking member Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., remained at odds Wednesday over GOP efforts to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mark Green, R-Tenn., and ranking member Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., remained at odds Wednesday over GOP efforts to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. Tom Williams / Getty Images

House holds initial proceeding in GOP effort to impeach DHS secretary

Democrats, Biden administration call the attempt to impeach a cabinet secretary for the first time in nearly 150 years a politically motivated distraction.

House Republicans on Wednesday kicked off their effort to impeach a cabinet member for the first time in nearly 150 years, though Democrats and legal scholars suggested the lawmakers were merely acting out over policy disagreements. 

Republicans’ hearing before the House Homeland Security Committee marked the first of several expected such proceedings to set up Homeland Security Department Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas’ impeachment, pointing to the increasing number of migrants and illicit materials crossing the U.S.-Mexico border as justification. Mayorkas’ decision-making has amounted to violations of law and his oath of office, the lawmakers said, suggesting impeachment was the only means left to hold him accountable. 

Congressional Democrats and the Biden administration blasted the effort as vindictive, politically motivated and setting a dangerous precedent. They accused Republicans throughout the hearing of failing to spell out any specific “high crimes and misdemeanors” that are required for impeachment under the Constitution and said their colleagues simply disagreed with President Biden’s approach to immigration and border security policy. 

The Republican case against Mayorkas came down to two main accusations: he lied under oath when telling Congress DHS maintained operational control of the border as defined by the Secure Fence Act, and he violated his oath of office by halting border wall construction, increasing the use of parole and allowing migrants detained at the border to be released into the country.

“The secretary has abused his authority and put Americans at risk,” Rep. Mark Green, R-Tenn., said. 

Green and several of his colleagues specifically cited as evidence against Mayorkas his “reckless and irresponsible use of federal law enforcement personnel,” namely that he relocated employees from various components and agencies to assist Border Patrol when migratory flows overwhelmed their capacities. Such an approach has spanned several administrations, however, including under President Trump

Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, who does not sit on the committee but helped spearhead the impeachment effort, said ahead of the hearing Mayorkas’ decision to relocate DHS and other employees to the southern border “has only enabled the border crisis by ushering more people into the country” and worsened morale within Border Patrol. 

Customs and Border Protection encountered more than 300,000 migrants illegally crossing the southwest border in December, setting an all-time monthly record and continuing an ongoing trend. DHS officials have decried insufficient resources and called on Congress to take action to provide more funds and personnel.

The impeachment effort comes as the Biden administration is engaging with Senate Republicans on a plan to tighten immigration policy and ramp up border security, a process in which Mayorkas is playing a key part and has made repeated trips to the Capitol for ongoing discussions. The two sides have said they have gotten much closer to striking an agreement—as part of a package that would provide tens of billions of dollars in aid to Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan and other allies—though they have yet to reach a deal. 

Frank Bowman, a professor emeritus of law at the University of Missouri, told the committee that impeachable conduct typically involves corruption, abuse of power, betrayal of the nation's foreign policy interests and subversion of the Constitution. None of the allegations against Mayorkas, he said, fell under those categories. He added Mayorkas was simply following the orders of his superior—President Biden—which cannot amount to an impeachable abuse of power. 

“Essentially this is an ongoing legal and policy dispute,” Bowman said. “It is not, therefore, the kind of thing for which impeachment should be used.” 

Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., the top Democrat on the Homeland Security panel, said Republicans were abusing the impeachment process. 

“You cannot impeach a cabinet secretary because you don't like the president's policies,” he said. “That's not what impeachment is for. That's not what the Constitution says.”

Prior to the hearing, DHS circulated a memorandum assailing the effort as a politically motivated and baseless attack. It noted DHS conducted more removals in fiscal 2022 than any previous year, ramped up fentanyl-related arrests and maintained a steady apprehension rate. The process, the department said, was distracting from efforts underway to negotiate legislative solutions at the border.

“Members of Congress serious about addressing these challenges should oppose this baseless impeachment that is going nowhere and instead work with the department to keep America safe by properly funding DHS’ vital missions and reforming our broken immigration laws,” the department said.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said on Tuesday Republicans were playing “political games instead of doing their jobs” and it was “really shameful.” 

Rep. Clay Higgins, R-La., noted that Biden has the right to appoint who he likes and may have “wild policy in mind” when he does so. He added, however, that cabinet members have a responsibility to inform the president when his policies are going to “bring an injury on our country.” Higgins predicted the outcome of the events were a foregone conclusion, while conceding they were policy-motivated. 

“We're going to impeach him,” Higgins said. “He's going to be impeached. And he should be. He is the executive in charge of the border policy for President Biden.”

The House voted to send the impeachment inquiry to the committee after it in November rejected an effort to bring the matter up for a vote on the floor. Green said he and his colleagues have been investigating Mayorkas for months and they would hold the secretary accountable for “the unprecedented crisis at the southwest border.”

Mayorkas’ impeachment would mark an exceedingly rare step. Wiliam Belknap, secretary of war under President Grant, is the only cabinet secretary to be impeached after the House did so in 1876. He resigned before facing trial in the Senate. Even if the latest effort proves successful, there is little path for Republicans to find the two-thirds majority required for conviction in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

House Republicans, who are in the midst of an impeachment inquiry into President Biden, this week have also threatened to bring impeachments against Defense Department Secretary Lloyd Austin for his failure to notify Congress of his health complications and Attorney General Merrick Garland for issues related to the investigation of Hunter Biden.