Republicans’ baseless Mayorkas impeachment sets a disturbing precedent

It weaponizes the practice in a new way.

By Li Zhou, Vox

After an embarrassing flop last week, House Republicans successfully impeached Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Tuesday.

This time around, the return of Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) helped guarantee Republicans the votes they needed for the effort to advance, though the vote was still close: 214-213, with all Democrats and three GOP lawmakers — Reps. Ken Buck (CO), Mike Gallagher (WI) and Tom McClintock (CA) — voting against it.

Mayorkas, who as DHS secretary oversees border security and programs like asylum, is now the first Cabinet official to be impeached in over a century. However, he’s unlikely to be forced out of office. To be removed, the Democrat-controlled Senate would have to vote to convict Mayorkas, and it’s not expected to do so.

For Republicans, impeachment is little more than their latest political stunt, and another aimed at keeping focus on the southern border and the issue of immigration ahead of the 2024 election. The vote is also an opportunity to try to distract from the GOP’s likely presidential nominee’s many legal problems by putting the attention on the Biden administration. And lastly, it’s a carrot that House Speaker Mike Johnson is using to generate goodwill with the far-right flank of the party as he battles to keep his leadership position and make progress on spending bills unpalatable to his most conservative colleagues.

Although Republicans were eventually successful, the whole ordeal has highlighted how tenuous GOP unity continues to be, and how the party has struggled to make concrete progress on its goals this term. And it sets a concerning precedent for how impeachment can be used as a political weapon, since both Democrats and legal experts widely argued that nothing Mayorkas has done has reached the threshold of “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

Republicans’ politically motivated impeachment, briefly explained

House Republicans have impeached Mayorkas on two articles, or charges.

The first accuses Mayorkas of failing to properly enforce existing immigration laws because he has taken certain actions like not detaining asylum seekers while they await their court dates. That approach is consistent with past administrations, including how this issue was handled during part of the Trump administration. The second article alleges that Mayorkas obstructed the House investigation into DHS practices, a claim he has pushed back on, noting that he’s testified seven times and complied with numerous document requests.

Democrats and legal scholars have argued that the allegations Republicans have levied do not meet the bar for impeachment. Instead they’ve said that such efforts are purely the result of policy differences and politically motivated.

“This was a stupid, purely partisan impeachment. Republicans still can’t explain what misdemeanors Secretary Mayorkas allegedly committed, let alone any high crimes,” Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA), a member of the House Judiciary Committee, said in a statement.

In fact, Republicans’ aims for pursuing this impeachment are pretty transparent.

Because immigration is an issue that energizes their base, and one that Republicans are seen as more trustworthy on compared to Democrats, they’re hoping to draw attention to it in an election year. Primary polling has shown immigration to be the top issue for about 40 percent of GOP voters in Iowa and New Hampshire, followed by the economy and jobs. A significant surge in migrants in the last year, conservative leaders’ efforts to bus and fly migrants to liberal cities, and statements by former President Donald Trump have also helped to make it a key issue.

Research, like that of political scientists Douglas Kriner and Eric Schickler, has also found that negative inquiries into administrations can hurt a president’s approval ratings. The researchers found, for example, that if lawmakers spent 20 days per month on investigative hearings, the president’s approval rating would see a commensurate decline of 2.5 percent in that time. That’s been the case even when those hearings went nowhere.

Republicans’ push, then, is really an effort to increase the negative scrutiny on President Joe Biden ahead of the November, election more than it’s about improving US immigration policy. Just last week, the GOP rejected a chance to actually make the changes to the border they’ve long been agitating for.


Li Zhou is a politics reporter at Vox, where she covers Congress and elections. Previously, she was a tech policy reporter at Politico and an editorial fellow at the Atlantic.

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