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Border Security House Republicans Impeach Mayorkas Over Border Policies
After failing in their first try last week, Republicans pushed through the charges over solid Democratic opposition, making the homeland security secretary the first sitting cabinet member to be impeached.
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Reporting from Washington
Here’s the latest on the impeachment vote.
The United States House of Representatives voted narrowly on Tuesday to impeach Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the homeland security secretary, in a precedent-shattering vote that charged him with willfully refusing to enforce border laws and breaching the public trust.
In a 214-to-213 vote, Republicans barreled past the solid opposition of Democrats and reservations in their own ranks to make Mr. Mayorkas the first sitting cabinet secretary in U.S. history to be impeached.
It amounted to a partisan indictment of President Biden’s immigration policies by the G.O.P., which is seeking to use a surge in migration across the U.S. border with Mexico during his tenure as a political weapon against him and Democrats in this year’s elections.
Mr. Biden condemned the House’s vote in a statement on Tuesday night.
“History will not look kindly on House Republicans for their blatant act of unconstitutional partisanship that has targeted an honorable public servant in order to play petty political games,” he said.
The vote came a week after the House rejected the charges against Mr. Mayorkas when Republicans, who control the House by a razor-thin margin, tried and failed to muster a majority to approve them .
It put Mr. Mayorkas in the company of past presidents and administration officials who have been impeached on allegations of personal corruption and other wrongdoing.
But the charges against him broke with history by failing to identify any such offense, instead effectively declaring the policy choices Mr. Mayorkas has carried out a constitutional crime. The approach threatened to lower the bar for impeachments — which already has fallen in recent years — reducing what was once Congress’s most potent tool to remove despots from power to a weapon to be deployed in political fights.
Democrats, former secretaries of homeland security, the country’s largest police union and a chorus of constitutional law experts — including conservatives — have denounced the impeachment as a blatant attempt to resolve a policy dispute with a constitutional punishment. They said Republicans had presented no evidence that Mr. Mayorkas’s conduct rose to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors, the standard for impeachment laid out in the Constitution.
The charges against Mr. Mayorkas are expected to be rejected in the Democratic-led Senate, where conviction would require a two-thirds majority and where even some Republicans have called the effort dead on arrival. The House is expected to deliver the impeachment articles to the Senate in the last week of February, according to the office of Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, and senators would be sworn in as jurors the next day.
“The one and only reason for this impeachment is for Speaker Johnson to further appease Donald Trump,” Mr. Schumer said in a statement, adding that House Republicans “failed to present any evidence of anything resembling an impeachable offense.”
But House Republicans insisted that Mr. Mayorkas had failed to carry out his duties under the Constitution, and they defended the impeachment as necessary.
“Congress has taken decisive action to defend our constitutional order and hold accountable a public official who has violated his oath of office,” Representative Mark E. Green, Republican of Tennessee and the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, which prepared the charges against Mr. Mayorkas, said in a statement. The proceedings, he added, “demonstrated beyond any doubt that Secretary Mayorkas has willfully and systemically refused to comply with the laws of the United States, and breached the public trust.”
Three Republicans — Representatives Ken Buck of Colorado, Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin and Tom McClintock of California — lined up with Democrats against the charges. They warned that impeaching a cabinet secretary for the way he did his job would weaken a weighty constitutional penalty and do nothing to address serious immigration issues.
“We have to stop using these impeachments — if you have policy differences, we have other tools,” Mr. Buck said in an interview following the vote, adding that impeachment had “become a partisan game that, when it comes to constitutional interpretation, really should be above this.”
But unlike last week, when the Republican defections were enough to sink the bill, leaders had just enough members present on Tuesday to eke out approval of the charges — albeit by the narrowest of margins. Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the No. 2 Republican, returned to Washington from a round of treatment for blood cancer , though another pair of Republicans — Representatives Brian Mast and Maria Elvira Salazar of Florida — did not vote. The absences of two Democrats, Representatives Lois Frankel of Florida and Judy Chu of California, allowed Republicans to prevail even so. Had either Democrat voted, the G.O.P. would have failed a second time to impeach Mr. Mayorkas.
In a statement posted to social media, Ms. Chu said she had tested positive for Covid-19, and would have voted against the impeachment. In a video posted to social media, Mr. Mast said he and Ms. Frankel got stuck at the Palm Beach International Airport, waiting for a plane with mechanical issues to be repaired.
In approving the charges, the House also appointed 11 Republicans to serve as impeachment managers, including Mr. Green and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, the right-wing lawmaker who has led the charge against Mr. Mayorkas.
Mr. Green’s panel produced a report in which they said of the Cuban-born secretary that they were “deporting Secretary Mayorkas from his position.”
The first of the two charges approved on Tuesday accuses Mr. Mayorkas of replacing Trump-era policies, such as the program commonly called Remain in Mexico, which required many migrants to wait at the southwestern border for their court dates, with “catch and release” policies that allowed migrants to roam free in the United States. Republicans charge that Mr. Mayorkas ignored multiple mandates of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which states that migrants “shall be detained” pending decisions on asylum and removal orders, and acted beyond his authority to parole migrants into the country.
Democrats have pushed back forcefully, noting that Mr. Mayorkas, like any homeland security secretary, has the right to set policies to manage the waves of migrants arriving at the border. That includes allowing certain migrants into the country temporarily on humanitarian grounds and prioritizing which migrants to detain, particularly when working with limited resources.
The second article accuses Mr. Mayorkas of breaching the public trust by misrepresenting the state of the border and stymieing congressional efforts to investigate him. Republicans base those accusations on an assertion by Mr. Mayorkas in 2022 that his department had “operational control” over the border, which is defined under a 2006 statute as the absence of any unlawful crossings of migrants or drugs. Mr. Mayorkas has said he was referring instead to a less absolute definition used by the Border Patrol.
They also accuse Mr. Mayorkas of having failed to produce documents, including materials he was ordered to give them under subpoena, during an investigation into his border policies and evading their efforts to get him to testify as part of their impeachment proceedings. Administration officials have countered that Mr. Mayorkas has produced tens of thousands of pages of documents in accordance with the panel’s requests. He offered to testify in person, but Republicans on the panel rescinded their invitation for him to appear after the two sides encountered scheduling problems.
A Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman, Mia Ehrenberg, criticized House Republicans on Tuesday night, accusing them of “trampling on the Constitution for political gain rather than working to solve the serious challenges at the border.”
“House Republicans have falsely smeared a dedicated public servant who has spent more than 20 years enforcing our laws and serving our country,” she added. “Secretary Mayorkas and the Department of Homeland Security will continue working every day to keep Americans safe.”
On Tuesday just hours before the vote, the U.S. Border Patrol released new data showing that the number of migrants illegally crossing the United States border with Mexico plummeted by 50 percent in January compared with December. But December was an all-time high, and the numbers have reached record levels during the Biden administration.
The only other cabinet secretary ever to suffer the same fate was William Belknap, the secretary of war under President Ulysses S. Grant. Belknap resigned in 1876 just before the House impeached him for corruption after finding evidence that he was involved in rampant wrongdoing, including accepting kickbacks. The Senate later acquitted him.
Hamed Aleaziz and Kayla Guo contributed reporting.
The office of Chuck Schumer, the Senate majority leader, says in a statement that the House impeachment managers will present the articles of impeachment to the Senate when senators return to Washington. The Senate is out of session this week in advance of the holiday weekend.
House Republicans had been threatening to impeach Mayorkas since at least early 2022. He is among at least 10 Biden administration officials they have threatened to impeach since taking over the House.
Tonight they finally followed through on the threat, even though it is all but sure to go nowhere in the Democratic-led Senate, where a conviction at trial is unlikely.
Source: Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives
In a lengthy statement, Biden called the impeachment vote a “blatant act of unconstitutional partisanship,” noting that Mayorkas and his family are Cuban immigrants who came to the United States as political refugees. The president also criticized Republicans for rejecting a bipartisan border security bill, “giving up on real solutions right when they are needed most” in order to play politics, and he urged the House to pass the Senate’s national security supplemental bill, which Speaker Johnson has said he will not bring to the floor for a vote.
We are watching in real time impeachment become akin to something like a super-censure.
Hamed Aleaziz and Miriam Jordan
Hamed Aleaziz reported from Healdsburg, Calif., and Miriam Jordan reported from Los Angeles.
Illegal border crossings have plummeted in the past month.
The number of people crossing illegally into the United States from Mexico has dropped by 50 percent in the past month, authorities said on Tuesday, as President Biden comes under growing pressure from both parties over security at the border.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection said it had encountered migrants between ports of entry 124,220 times in January, down from more than 249,000 the previous month.
The figures do not change the fact that the number of people crossing into the United States has reached record levels during the Biden administration, and crossings typically dip in January. Immigration trends are affected by weather patterns and other issues, making it difficult to draw conclusions from monthly numbers.
But the drop in crossings was a glimmer of good news for the Biden administration as House Republicans impeached Alejandro N. Mayorkas , the homeland security secretary, on Tuesday on charges of willfully refusing to enforce border laws. (Their first attempt ended in defeat .)
The figures also amounted to a respite for some large American cities grappling with the burden of sheltering migrants during the wintertime.
In New York City, which is housing more than 65,000 migrants in hotels, shelters and tents, the number of migrants entering the city’s care over the last month plunged to about 1,600 per week, down 55 percent from 3,600 per week in December.
Kayla Mamelak, a spokeswoman for Mayor Eric Adams, said that migrant arrivals in the city correspond directly with border crossings. The number of migrants in city shelters has fallen by 5 percent in the past five weeks, partly because of fewer arrivals and partly because of stricter shelter limits.
Denver, another city struggling with an influx of migrants, received 3,041 in January, fewer than half as many as December’s total of 6,824, according to official data. Only 13 migrants arrived in the city on Feb. 13, compared with 26 on Feb. 12, the data showed.
“If this year’s influx of migrants happens as last year’s, it will come in waves. Those down shifts will be crucial to the city of Denver to get a break, learn how to manage its resources and batten down the hatches for what comes next,” said DJ Summers, director of policy and research at the Common Sense Institute in Denver.
Many of the migrants arrived in Democratic-led cities like Boston, Denver, Chicago and New York after traveling on buses sent by Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas, who argues that cities far from the border should share the burden of migrants in his state. Democratic mayors have accused him of using human beings as props.
Troy A. Miller, the acting head of the border agency, said the drop in border crossings is the result of “seasonal trends, as well as enhanced enforcement efforts” by Border Patrol and “our international partners.”
In late December, Mr. Biden sent Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and other top American officials to Mexico City, where they met with President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to find a way to slow the surge in illegal crossings.
Since that meeting, Mexico has been intercepting some migrants traveling north to the United States, according to Jennifer Piper, program director for the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker organization that operates in Mexico.
The United States has also stepped up pressure on countries like Panama and Guatemala to take measures to prevent migrants from advancing toward Mexico.
Adam Isacson of the Washington Office on Latin America, a human rights organization, said the dip in numbers was likely connected to a few factors. Among them were rumors that U.S. officials were going to close the border in December; another was Mexico’s stepped-up enforcement, including by taking migrants off trains headed to the southern border and boosting checkpoints.
Mr. Isacson also noted that border crossing numbers regularly fall from December to January.
“It seems to be a combination of weather (rainy in the south, bitter cold at night at the border), plus people don’t like to leave home during the end-of-year holidays unless they have absolutely no choice,” he said.
Immigration has taken on enormous political importance as this year’s presidential election approaches. Mr. Biden has blamed his predecessor and putative challenger, former President Donald J. Trump, for undermining a bipartisan immigration deal in Congress that would crack down at the border.
And immigration experts say they expect another rise in numbers soon.
Casa Alitas, a Catholic agency that runs several shelters in Tucson, said numbers have been steadily climbing again.
In October, November and December, the shelter network was receiving about 1,000 migrants each day. That number plummeted to an average of about 500 daily in the first three weeks of January. This week, numbers were in the 1,000 range again.
Diego Piña Lopez, the agency’s director, said the numbers had gone up “slowly but surely.”
Andy Newman and Luis Ferré-Sadurní contributed reporting from New York.
What’s next in the Mayorkas impeachment?
Republican members of the House impeached Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the homeland security secretary, with a simple majority vote on Tuesday. It sets off a series of choreographed rituals that dates back to the impeachment of former President Andrew Johnson in 1868. Here’s a look at what happens next.
A ceremonial procession
Once the House approves two articles of impeachment laying out the accusations against Mr. Mayorkas as part of its oversight and investigatory responsibilities , they are then walked over to the Senate.
The day after President Johnson was impeached, in February 1868, the articles of impeachment were delivered to the Senate by Representative Thaddeus Stevens, Republican of Pennsylvania. Mr. Stevens was so ill that he had to be carried through the Capitol .
Once the articles are delivered, the Senate, acting as a High Court of Impeachment , would schedule a trial during which senators would consider evidence, hear witnesses and, ultimately, vote to acquit or convict. They could also vote to dismiss the charges.
The Senate trial
The House speaker names impeachment managers from the chamber who would be tasked with arguing the case against the impeached official, serving as the prosecution team in the Senate trial.
In the case of Mr. Mayorkas, the impeachment articles also appoint 11 impeachment managers. The group includes Representatives Mark E. Green of Tennessee, the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee that drew up the charges, and Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, Republican of Georgia, who has led the drive to seek his removal. Also part of the team are Representatives Andy Biggs of Arizona, Ben Cline of Virginia, Clay Higgins of Louisiana, Andrew Garbarino of New York, Michael Guest of Mississippi, Harriet M. Hageman of Wyoming, Laurel Lee of Florida, Michael McCaul of Texas and August Pfluger of Texas.
The Biden administration would have the right to have an agent or attorney appear to answer for the articles of impeachment against Mr. Mayorkas. That includes appointing House Democrats to serve on the defense team.
In a trial, senators would sit as a jury in judgment of Mr. Mayorkas. For many, it would be the third impeachment trial they would sit through, after two consecutive impeachment trials of former President Donald J. Trump, in 2020 and 2021. Eventually, senators would take a vote on the charges. They could agree to dismiss the articles or render a verdict.
If a trial moves forward without the charges being dismissed, a two-thirds majority would be required to convict and remove Mr. Mayorkas, an exceedingly unlikely outcome given that Democrats control the Senate. Democrats have the majority, holding 48 seats and the votes of three independents who caucus with them. Senate Republicans are in the minority , controlling 49 seats. If Democrats held together in support of him, Mr. Mayorkas would be acquitted even if every Republican voted to convict.
If he were to be found guilty, according to Article II, Section Four of the Constitution, Mr. Mayorkas would be removed from his position and the Senate could vote to bar him from being able to hold office again.
Scalise, leaving the House floor, tells reporters that the vote to impeach Mayorkas was important to securing the border because it “sends a message that we’re not just going to sit by while the secretary of homeland security fails to do his job.”
Speaker Johnson in a newly released statement says: “Alejandro Mayorkas deserves to be impeached, and Congress has a constitutional obligation to do so.”
“Next to a declaration of war, impeachment is arguably the most serious authority given to the House, and we have treated this matter accordingly,” he said.
Ken Buck, a Republican vote against impeachment, says on a cable news appearance from the Capitol that bringing a partisan impeachment measure up was the “wrong thing for the speaker to do.”
“The speaker needs to be above the fray,” Buck says. “That didn’t happen.”
There were two absences on both sides, and it will be interesting to see what the reasons and possible fallout from that is, particularly on the Democratic side of the aisle.
It’s not immediately clear why Lois Frankel, whose district is in Florida, and Judy Chu, whose district is in California, missed the vote. But if one more Democrat had been on the floor, Mayorkas would not be impeached right now.
Mia Ehrenberg, the homeland security spokeswoman, rips into the vote: “House Republicans will be remembered by history for trampling on the Constitution for political gain rather than working to solve the serious challenges at our border. While Secretary Mayorkas was helping a group of Republican and Democratic senators develop bipartisan solutions to strengthen border security and get needed resources for enforcement, House Republicans have wasted months with this baseless, unconstitutional impeachment.”
Republicans cheer as the vote is gaveled out. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a driving effort behind the impeachment, is posing for photos with members and receiving hugs and congratulations.
Right before the vote was announced, one Democrat audibly said “Shame!” (We couldn’t see who.)
Marjorie Taylor Greene, who introduced the impeachment resolution, hugs Mark Green, the Homeland Security Committee chairman, on the floor, in celebration.
Republicans, including Johnson, are also fist-bumping and hugging Scalise, whose return to Washington allowed Republicans to push the impeachment over the finish line.
Speaker Johnson was in the chair gaveling down the failed impeachment last week. This time he gets to gavel down on a successful vote.
The vote is 214 to 213. Mayorkas is impeached.
Sam Graves, a Republican from Missouri, hasn’t voted yet. Unclear why.
Graves just voted. The tally right now is 214 to 213. Waiting to see if anyone else shows up.
If this vote passes, Mayorkas will be impeached on two charges, and the House will have appointed 11 G.O.P. members as impeachment managers.
No sign yet of the two missing Democrats. If they rush in at the last minute, they could block this vote again, like Texas Democrat Al Green did with his surprise appearance last week.
One minute left in the vote
So far, all Democrats are voting no, and no additional Republicans appear to have joined the defectors yet.
Tom McClintock of California, Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin and Ken Buck of Colorado are all No's on impeachment, just like they were last week.
Two of those three Republicans, Gallagher and Buck, have announced that they intend to step down from Congress after this year.
They’re now starting the impeachment vote.
Now the House is voting on a motion to revive the Mayorkas impeachment — a preliminary step they need to take after the House shot it down last week.
Two Democrats and two Republicans are currently absent.
Now just two members appear to be missing on each side of the aisle: Democrats Lois Frankel of Florida and Judy Chu of California, and Republicans Brian Mast and Maria Salazar, both of Florida.
Al Green, the Democrat who cast the decisive vote to defeat impeachment last week after making a surprise appearance in a wheelchair, hospital pajamas and no shoes, is back, this time in a suit. He had come to the Capitol from the hospital last week in dramatic fashion just days after undergoing abdominal surgery.
Six lawmakers were missing on the first, unrelated vote — and it appeared to be an even split between Democrats and Republicans, which means the same margins apply: the GOP can’t lose more than three of their own for impeachment to pass.
Steve Scalise has returned to the floor. He’s wearing a mask while fist-bumping colleagues who are happy to see him back after a six-week absence during which he received a stem-cell transplant as part of his treatment for blood cancer.
At the risk of repeating what we said last week, attendance will once again be the key to whether Republicans can impeach Mayorkas. If they are missing members, they could fail a second time.
Democrats, constitutional scholars and some of his predecessors reject the case against Mayorkas.
Democrats are solidly opposed to the Republican drive to impeach Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the homeland security secretary, which they call a political stunt that turns a constitutional process on its head. If Mr. Mayorkas is impeached, the Democratic-led Senate is all but certain to acquit him in a trial that would require a two-thirds majority to convict and remove him from office.
Republicans have moved forward with the process even though constitutional scholars, past secretaries of homeland security and even some former legal advisers to former President Donald J. Trump have noted that nothing Mr. Mayorkas is accused of rises to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors, the standard for impeachment laid out in the Constitution.
The G.O.P. contends that the secretary’s failure to uphold certain aspects of immigration law is itself a constitutional crime. But the president and his administration have wide latitude to control the border, and Mr. Mayorkas has not exceeded those authorities.
Still, Republicans insist they are within their rights under the Constitution to hold Mr. Mayorkas personally responsible for policy failures at the border.
“For three years, Secretary Mayorkas has willfully and systemically refused to comply with the laws enacted by Congress,” Representative Mark E. Green, Republican of Tennessee and the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, said in a statement after the Homeland Security Committee approved the impeachment articles .
“Make no mistake, Secretary Mayorkas’s lawlessness is exactly what the framers of our Constitution designed impeachment to remedy. The historical record makes it clear — Congress holds impeachment power to hold accountable public officials who refuse to do their duty, and to deal with grave harms to our political order.”
The House is now voting, but not yet on the Mayorkas impeachment — that’s the last vote they’ll take tonight. But we are watching these earlier votes to see if everyone shows up.
Reporting from Capitol Hill
Speaker Mike Johnson has made an impossible job only more difficult for himself.
When one of the most stinging defeats of his short tenure arrived last Tuesday, Speaker Mike Johnson had put himself front and center in the House chamber, standing in front of the speaker’s ceremonial chair on the upper tier of the rostrum to gavel it down.
As Republicans tanked their own bid to impeach Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the homeland security secretary, Mr. Johnson, who minutes before had been buttonholing holdouts on the House floor, was the face of the failure, a slightly panicked look on his face and his cheeks flushed as he announced the loss.
Then the House moved on to a second vote Mr. Johnson had orchestrated, on a $17.6 billion aid package for Israel that he knew would not muster the votes it needed to pass.
It also failed.
The back-to-back defeats highlighted the litany of problems Mr. Johnson inherited the day he was elected speaker and his inexperience in the position, roughly 100 days after being catapulted from the rank and file to the top job in the House. Saddled with a razor-thin margin of control, and a deeply divided conference that has proved repeatedly to be a majority in name only, he has struggled to corral his unruly colleagues and made a series of decisions that only added to his own challenges.
The next day, Mr. Johnson was sanguine, painting the dysfunction as the kind of messy democratic process the founding fathers had envisioned.
“The job will be done and we’re going to govern,” he told reporters just off the House floor. “This country is the greatest country in the history of the world. The entire world is counting upon us. We have steady hands at the wheel. We’ll get through it. Everybody take a deep breath. It’s a long game.”
The scene that unfolded on the House floor last Tuesday night prompted widespread bafflement among Republicans, who had assumed that Mr. Johnson had pressed ahead with the impeachment vote because he was sure he had the votes to pass it.
“I played by every rule that the party has put in place for how we should not surprise them for a vote,” said Representative Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin, one of three Republicans who broke with the party to oppose the move. “We barreled ahead with a vote. We did not need to embarrass ourselves. We could have simply waited until the math was different and gone ahead.”
It appeared that Republican leaders miscalculated both the intensity of opposition to the measure among defectors, as well as the number of Democrats who would be present to vote.
Kayla Guo and Luke Broadwater contributed reporting.
House Republicans are squeezing in this second impeachment attempt before the polls close in the special election on Long Island to replace former Representative George Santos. If Tom Suozzi, a Democrat, wins that race, the G.O.P.’s tiny margin could shrink even more.
This impeachment vote is expected to be somewhat anticlimactic after last week’s drama on the House floor, which included Representative Al Green, a Texas Democrat, showing up in hospital garb to cast the deciding vote to tank an impeachment that Republicans have been promising their voters for over a year. There has been no debate ahead of the vote this time, and with the return of Representative Steve Scalise, the majority leader, Republicans expect to have the votes to pass it without drama.
House Democrats on the Homeland Security Committee are blasting the planned impeachment vote against Mayorkas. Earlier today, Representative Dan Goldman of New York said the fact that it failed last week “says everything that you need to know about that bogus impeachment.”
“It’s a dangerous, dangerous precedent that the Republicans are trying to set by impeaching someone from a different party who they just simply don’t agree with. And the allegations are both false and sensational. And it would be a real shame if this actually does pass today,” Goldman said.
There are major holes in the impeachment case against Mayorkas.
House Republicans’ impeachment case against Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the homeland security secretary, boils down to a simple allegation: that he has broken the law by refusing to enforce immigration statutes that aim to prevent migrants from entering the United States without authorization.
The Homeland Security Committee approved articles of impeachment against Mr. Mayorkas on a party-line vote, setting the stage for a vote of the full House. If impeached, he would be only the second cabinet secretary to receive that punishment in American history, the first in 148 years and the only one to be indicted by Congress for nothing more than carrying out the policies of the president he serves.
The G.O.P. argues that the secretary’s failure to uphold certain aspects of immigration law is itself a constitutional crime. But in the United States, the president and his administration have wide latitude to control the border, and Mr. Mayorkas has not exceeded those authorities.
Here’s a look at the holes in the impeachment case against him.
The government has broad authority over how and when to detain migrants.
The impeachment articles that the committee approved accuse Mr. Mayorkas of flouting several provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act that say deportable migrants “shall be detained” until they can be removed from the country. The articles charge that the secretary pursued a “catch and release” scheme to allow inadmissible migrants into the United States, knowing that it would be difficult or even impossible to ensure they would later appear in immigration court for removal proceedings.
What the charges do not take into account, however, is that Mr. Mayorkas also has the legal authority to determine which migrants to prioritize for detention, given limited bed space and long backlogs in the immigration courts.
“Congress loves passing laws that are impossible to execute,” said Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, the policy director at the American Immigration Council, adding that enforcing detention mandates is often “a question of resources.”
The United States has not had enough detention beds to accommodate the number of migrants awaiting removal proceedings for several years, well before President Biden took office. Even the Trump administration released migrants into the country, because the maximum detention capacity — about 55,000 in 2019 — was not enough to accommodate the number of arrivals seeking entry. Former President Donald J. Trump’s Remain in Mexico policy requiring some migrants to wait for their immigration court dates outside the United States, which Republicans want to reinstitute, did not apply to all migrants making claims at the border.
Parole powers allow migrants to live and work temporarily in the United States.
One of the impeachment articles says Mr. Mayorkas “paroled aliens en masse in order to release them from mandatory detention,” again with the intent of undermining the law.
But the immigration act gives the executive branch parole power to let migrants temporarily live and work in the United States for humanitarian reasons, or if their admission would be to the public’s benefit. Decisions about whom to parole are to be made on a case-by-case basis, and there is no restriction as to what criteria the secretary can consider when determining who qualifies. There is also no statutory cap on how many migrants can be allowed into the country under the authority.
Several past administrations, including those of former Presidents Trump, Barack Obama and George W. Bush, have relied on parole authority to bring members of certain vulnerable migrant groups into the United States.
The Biden administration has built on existing programs allowing nationals of certain economically ravaged Central and South American countries with sponsors already in the United States to seek parole. It has also inaugurated similar pathways for Afghans and Ukrainians fleeing war, and introduced a mobile app known as C.B.P. One to streamline migrants through ports of entry.
House Republicans have sought to close down those avenues, passing legislation last year that would shutter nearly all of them.
Mr. Mayorkas has tussled with Republicans over what constitutes “operational control” of the border.
House Republicans have also charged Mr. Mayorkas with lying under oath about the state of the border when he testified in 2022 that the department had “operational control.” He later explained that he was using a definition employed by the Border Patrol that defines “operational control” as “the ability to detect, respond and interdict border penetrations in areas deemed as high priority.” But that differs from the standard in a 2006 law called the Secure Fence Act, which defines the term as the absence of any unlawful crossings of migrants or drugs.
If everybody shows up, and no one changes their vote, the G.O.P. should be able to impeach Mayorkas tonight. But this is fly-in day for the House — as in, the day they’re all supposed to come back to Washington from their home districts. So if someone has car trouble, or misses a flight, it could completely rock the outcome of the vote.
Democrats also need to make sure they have all their members in place for the vote tonight, to take advantage of any absences or additional defections on the Republican side.
The House Republicans' second attempt at impeaching Alejandro Mayorkas, the homeland security secretary, is going to come down to attendance tonight. Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the majority leader, is back after his absence last week. But if the party has other absences, it runs the risk of falling short again.
Reporting from the Capitol
Steve Scalise returned to the Capitol after cancer treatment, noting that ‘votes are tight.’
Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the majority leader, returned to the Capitol on Tuesday following a six-week absence during which he received a stem-cell transplant as part of his treatment for blood cancer.
His Republican colleagues in the House were counting on his return to impeach Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the homeland security secretary, after a humiliating setback last week, when three Republicans joined all Democrats in rejecting the charges, leaving the G.O.P. just one vote short of a majority.
“I am back,” a smiling Mr. Scalise, mask in his hand, told a Fox News reporter as he re-entered the Capitol Tuesday afternoon. Mr. Scalise said he was feeling “great” and expressed confidence that the impeachment vote would move ahead as planned.
“To be back in person is really exciting,” he said. “I’ve heard the votes are tight; every vote is going to matter around here.”
On Tuesday night, he wore a heavy-duty mask as he milled around the House floor during votes, greeting colleagues with fist bumps and hugs.
Last week, after the stunning defeat of the first impeachment attempt , Republican leaders quickly said they would try again as soon as Mr. Scalise could return, potentially even the next day. That raised questions about whether the majority leader might place his health in grave danger to help Republicans press their charges against Mr. Mayorkas, which cleared the House on Tuesday evening but are all but certain to die in the Democratic-led Senate.
But Mr. Scalise said on Tuesday that after being in isolation for weeks as he received an autologous stem-cell transplant, he had been cleared by his doctors to travel.
During the process, he said, “they basically give you no immunity system. Your system is really not able to fight off any diseases.” But Mr. Scalise said his doctors told him his white blood cell count was high enough that he could be cleared to “go back to being around people.” Mr. Scalise said he planned to resume his full in-person schedule.
On Tuesday, he stuck with his annual tradition of delivering king cakes to his colleagues and Capitol Police officers to celebrate Mardi Gras.
Mr. Scalise’s office said in a statement last week that he was in complete remission.
Mr. Scalise, the No. 2 Republican in the House, announced in August that he had been diagnosed with a rare form of blood cancer. He continued to work as he underwent treatment, including an aggressive form of chemotherapy.
House Republicans eager to move forward with the impeachment of Mr. Mayorkas on Tuesday cheered his return.
Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, Republican of Georgia who has led the charge against Mr. Mayorkas, said on social media that Mr. Scalise had “put cancer in remission” and that the Louisiana lawmaker was notably returning on Fat Tuesday to #impeachmayorkas. During the October race for Speaker, Ms. Greene had raised concerns about Mr. Scalise’s diagnosis in opposing his bid for the gavel. On the House floor Tuesday night, she greeted him with a warm hug.
His allies in Congress said Mr. Scalise looked and sounded great and that they trusted he was not putting his health in harm’s way by rushing back to Capitol Hill because his party so desperately needed his vote.
“While Steve Scalise will always put his country before his own health issues, I trust him to make his own decisions and he doesn’t owe any of us an explanation,” said Representative Lance Gooden, Republican of Texas. “We are thrilled he’s back.”
Representative Ann Wagner, Republican of Missouri, said that she had been talking and texting with Mr. Scalise throughout his medical ordeal and that he was healthy enough that he planned to begin traveling again this weekend to campaign with fellow lawmakers.
“He’s in such great shape he’s going on the road on Friday when we get out, and helping members,” she said.
Impeachment was once rare and serious. It’s becoming a tool in partisan fights.
If the House impeaches Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the secretary of homeland security, it will be the first time in American history that a sitting cabinet officer has been impeached. But Mr. Mayorkas is not as lonely as all that.
Republicans have also filed articles of impeachment against his boss, President Biden, as well as Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III, Attorney General Merrick B. Garland and Christopher A. Wray, the F.B.I. director, while threatening them against Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona.
Indeed, threats of impeachment have become a favorite pastime for Republicans following the lead of former President Donald J. Trump, who has pressed his allies for payback for his own two impeachments while in office. The chances of Mr. Mayorkas, much less Mr. Biden, ever being convicted in the Senate, absent some shocking revelation, seem to be just about zero, and the others appear in no serious danger even of being formally accused by the House.
But impeachment, once seen as perhaps the most serious check on corruption and abuse of power developed by the founders, now looks in danger of becoming a constitutional dead letter, just another weapon in today’s bitter, tit-for-tat partisan wars. Mr. Trump’s two acquittals made clear that a president could feel assured of keeping his office no matter how serious his transgressions, as long as his party stuck with him, and the impeachment-in-search-of-a-high-crime efforts of the Biden era have been written off as just more politics.
“Impeachment has become more of a political and public relations tool than a serious mechanism of executive branch accountability,” said Jack Goldsmith, a Harvard Law School professor and a former top Justice Department official under President George W. Bush. “It is of a piece with the decline of norms across Washington institutions and the ever-rising weaponization of legal tools to harm political opponents.”
In crafting the Constitution, the framers opted to include an impeachment clause to prevent the despotism Americans had just freed themselves from in the Revolution. At first, they decided that presidents and other officers could be subject to impeachment by a majority in the House and conviction by a two-thirds majority in the Senate for “treason or bribery.”
George Mason thought that was too limited and proposed adding “maladministration” as an impeachable offense, meaning incompetence. But James Madison objected, deeming it too broad and arguing that it would make the president subject to the whims of the Senate. Mason backed down but then proposed as an alternative the phrase “or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”
It was elegant, but the framers did not define it precisely. Alexander Hamilton made clear that the phrase meant offenses that “relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself” — in other words, not any old crime would be impeachable, but only those that were an offense against the people or the system.
It was meant to be rare and for decades it was. Only 21 times has the House voted to impeach a government official, and only eight times has the Senate convicted and removed them from office, all of them judges who otherwise had life tenure. The only other cabinet official targeted for impeachment, William Belknap, the war secretary under President Ulysses S. Grant accused of corruption, resigned tearfully minutes before the House took up his case in 1876, but lawmakers voted to impeach him anyway.
It was so rare that no president was impeached until 1868, when President Andrew Johnson came within one vote of being convicted in the Senate. It took 130 years for there to be another presidential impeachment, against Bill Clinton , who was also acquitted, and just 21 years passed between the second presidential impeachment and the third, involving Mr. Trump .
A little over a year passed between the third and the fourth, when Mr. Trump was impeached a second time . If the House impeaches Mr. Biden, there will have been three presidential impeachments in five years — more than in the previous 230 years of the republic combined.