DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas arrives for a news conference about security ahead of Super Bowl LVIII at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas on Feb. 7, 2024.

DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas arrives for a news conference about security ahead of Super Bowl LVIII at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas on Feb. 7, 2024. PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images

On take two, House impeaches DHS secretary

Alejandro Mayorkas becomes the first cabinet secretary to be impeached in nearly 150 years.

The House on Tuesday narrowly voted to impeach a cabinet secretary for just the second time in the nation’s history, finally sending the Senate two articles to oust the head of the Homeland Security Department after failing to do so last week.

The chamber approved DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas’ impeachment with only Republicans in a 214-213 vote, with three members of the party joining all Democrats in saying the inquiry failed to lay out any crimes he committed. It marked the first cabinet impeachment since 1876, when the House did so for President Grant's Secretary of War Wiliam Belknap. It also marked the second attempt to impeach Mayorkas in recent days, after House Republicans held a vote that ended in a surprising defeat just last week. 

The same three lawmakers, Reps. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., and Ken Buck, R-Colo., and Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., were the only Republicans to join Democrats in voting against the resolution, but Republicans were this time able to sustain a majority after House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., returned from an absence. 

The House approved two articles of impeachment against Mayorkas: the first accuses the secretary of failing to carry out a bevy of federal statutes related to immigration. DHS and congressional Democrats have repeatedly noted that no department secretary has met those standards, such as detaining every migrant who crosses into the country. The second article concerns allegations Mayorkas violated his oath of office, lied to Congress and obstructed the committee’s investigation.

The articles now move to the Senate, where the Democratic majority is nearly certain to not convict and remove Mayorkas. Senate leadership has not yet unveiled its plans regarding if or when it will hold a trial for the secretary. 

Congressional Democrats, the Biden administration and Mayorkas himself have blasted the effort as vindictive, politically motivated and setting a dangerous precedent. They have accused Republicans 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.

DHS has said under Mayorkas' leadership it has ramped up migrant removals to levels not seen since 2015 and detained every migrant possible using the number of detention beds Congress has funded. Applying the committee Republicans' logic consistently, it added, would have required the impeachment of every DHS secretary since the department's formation. DHS has provided 20,000 pages of documents to the current Congress, it said, including 13,000 to the Homeland Security panel.

Ahead of Tuesday’s vote, DHS distributed a memorandum that quoted the handful of House Republicans and several of their Senate counterparts who suggested the impeachment effort was unjustified and a waste of time. 

“House Republicans’ baseless push to impeach Secretary Mayorkas has already failed once, with bipartisan opposition,” the department said. “If Members of Congress care about our national security, they should listen to their fellow Republicans and stop wasting time on this pointless, unconstitutional impeachment—time that could be spent addressing the issue by advancing bipartisan legislation to fix our broken immigration laws and provide needed resources for border security.”

Republicans have suggested after investigating Mayorkas for months, and as migrant encounters at the U.S.-Mexico border have reached unprecedented levels, that impeachment was the only means to hold the secretary accountable. Rep. Mark Green, R-Tenn., who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, vowed after last week’s failed effort that Republicans would plow ahead to “hold Secretary Mayorkas accountable” despite the unexpected setback. They moved forward with impeachment after their rejection of a bipartisan measure to ramp up enforcement efforts at the border helped kill the legislation before it could even advance out of the Senate. 

Buck and McClintock detailed their opposition to impeachment before voting last week, saying the case against Mayorkas was insufficient Congress would be setting a dangerous precedent. Gallagher surprised his colleagues on the House floor with his "no" vote, and later said in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that "incompetence" does not rise to the level required for impeachment. He subsequently announced he would not run for reelection. 

DHS, meanwhile, announced ahead of the impeachment vote that the secretary will travel to Germany on Friday, where he will speak at two security conferences and meet with international partners “on a wide range of essential homeland security matters.”