House Republicans are plotting to swiftly impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas early this year, as key swing-district Republicans express fresh openness to the idea amid a recent surge of migrant crossings at the southern border.
The controversial move – to make Mayorkas the first Cabinet secretary impeached in nearly 150 years – amounts to a shift for the House GOP, which had set its sights on potentially impeaching President Joe Biden in early 2024. But with the Biden probe moving methodically and a number of Republicans still skeptical about impeaching the president, senior Republicans now believe targeting Mayorkas will be an easier lift as the border crisis becomes a defining campaign issue.
“From the far right and the Freedom Caucus to those more moderate, we have all been a part of this,” Rep. Anthony D’Esposito, a freshman congressman from a New York district that Biden carried in 2020, told CNN. “We’ve all asked the tough questions, and I think we are at a point, and I believe that the American people agree with us, that Mayorkas needs to be impeached and we need to find quality leadership to lead Homeland Security.”
The emerging plan, according to multiple GOP lawmakers and aides, is to run the Mayorkas impeachment effort entirely through the House Homeland Security Committee as opposed to the House Judiciary Committee, where impeachment articles typically originate, though it is not constitutionally required.
The reason for that strategy – which sources said has been green lit by House Speaker Mike Johnson – is largely related to internal politics. Senior Republicans are confident they will have the votes to advance impeachment articles through the Homeland Security Committee, whereas there are still key Republican holdouts on the judiciary panel. Housing the effort in the Homeland Security Committee was also seen as a way to placate firebrand GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who serves on the panel and had been threatening to force another snap floor vote on a Mayorkas impeachment resolution.
Plus, the House voted in November to refer Greene’s initial Mayorkas impeachment resolution to the Homeland Security Committee, which has jurisdiction over border security issues and already led a monthslong investigation into problems at the southern border.
And with the Judiciary Committee’s plate already full with other investigations, lawmakers say it makes sense to have the Homeland Security Committee take the lead as they race to capitalize on the issue with the Biden administration struggling to contain the crisis at the border.
“It’s more critical right now than anything. And I think the American people are very, very attuned to that,” Homeland Security Committee Chair Mark Green told CNN. “So I do think it will be a political issue (in November).”
Green said he has been in near-daily communication with the speaker and plans to move on impeachment “fairly quickly.” The Tennessee Republican does not anticipate there will be many hearings, since he’s already held numerous ones during his investigation into the southern border. The first impeachment hearing, which will take place Wednesday, is expected to largely be a summary of his probe and will feature witnesses.
The chairman has accused Mayorkas of failing to enforce the nation’s existing immigration laws and argued it’s a violation of his oath to uphold the Constitution, amounting to an impeachable offense. He declined to reveal what charges he is eyeing for impeachment articles, but expressed confidence they’ll have the votes to succeed.
Mayorkas, Green said, “has doubled down on policies that he knows are hurting Americans, he knows they’re defying the law. I think it’s grounds for his impeachment.”
But Democrats and even constitutional experts say policy disputes hardly rise to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors. And while many Democrats acknowledge the current immigration system is broken and the border has been overwhelmed – in part because global migration overall has increased – they also strongly refute the notion that the border is “open” or that Mayorkas has violated any laws.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, 1.4 million individuals who were encountered at the border were removed in fiscal year 2022, which is more than in any previous year. The agency has also stopped more fentanyl and arrested more individuals for fentanyl-related crimes in the last two years than in the previous five years combined.
“The House majority is wasting valuable time and taxpayer dollars pursuing a baseless political exercise that has been rejected by members of both parties and already failed on a bipartisan vote,” Mia Ehrenberg, a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security, said in a statement. “There is no valid basis to impeach Secretary Mayorkas, as senior members of the House majority have attested, and this extreme impeachment push is a harmful distraction from our critical national security priorities.”
GOP leaders navigate thin majority
The border crisis has galvanized Republicans, unifying their party for more aggressive action on an issue central to the 2024 campaign.
Eight Republicans voted with Democrats to scuttle an effort to impeach Mayorkas in November. But several of those members are indicating they’d back impeaching Mayorkas if it goes through the committee process.
“I look forward to voting for impeachment of Secretary Mayorkas – when we’ve adhered to regular order and made good on our commitments,” said Rep. Virginia Foxx, a Republican of North Carolina, who voted with Democrats in November to send the Mayorkas impeachment resolution to the Homeland Security Committee.
But it is far from guaranteed that Republicans will have the votes, given their razor-thin majority – and the fact that one member, Rep. Ken Buck of Colorado, told CNN that impeaching Mayorkas could set a “dangerous” precedent. With early resignations and a temporary absence from Majority Leader Steve Scalise, the House GOP is contending with a two-seat margin in the near future.
“I’ll apply the same standard to impeaching a cabinet official as I would to impeach the president: which is a high crime and misdemeanor,” Buck told CNN.
Yet as it remains unclear whether Johnson can get the votes to impeach Biden, Republicans believe targeting Mayorkas will help channel the base’s growing demands to hold the administration accountable.
“The Homeland Security Committee has laid out tremendous evidence for impeachment,” Scalise told CNN. “They’ve been building a strong case for months now. And the case is overwhelming.”
Scalise said that it’s too early to predict whether the full conference will be on board, but added: “It hasn’t gone to the full membership yet, but you can see it coming to a head in the Homeland Security Committee.”
Even moderate Republicans, including ones in districts that Biden carried in 2020, are signaling more willingness to impeach Mayorkas than the president – a sign of the shifting political terrain on the issue.
GOP Rep. Nick LaLota, another New York freshman congressman in a competitive reelection who also sits on the homeland security panel and has not yet backed Biden’s impeachment, said he believes Mayorkas ought to be removed because “he is the one most solely responsible for our nation’s open border.”
And Rep. Don Bacon of Nebraska, who represents a district won by Biden and has expressed caution against impeaching the president, signaled an openness to impeaching Mayorkas.
“I’ll be in listening mode on this,” Bacon told CNN. “We have a disaster at the border, and he’s in charge.”
D’Esposito, the New York freshman, said he “absolutely,” backed impeaching Mayorkas, attacking the secretary for a “dereliction of duty.”
Asked what crime Mayorkas allegedly committed, D’Esposito said: “If there is any high crime higher than allowing potential terrorists into this country to cause harm to American people, I’m not sure what else we need to hear other than that.”
Data shows that slightly more people on the terrorist watch list were apprehended at the border under Trump’s watch than under the Biden administration. According to Customs and Border Protection data, there were 559 so-called terrorist screening data set encounters at the southwest border from fiscal year 2017 through 2019, versus 532 such encounters from fiscal year 2021 through 2023.
Senior Republicans see GOP Rep. Tony Gonzales of Texas – who represents a key swing district along the southern border and quickly came around to impeachment last year – as a critical voice for their Mayorkas impeachment effort, and they are leaning on him to help convince the remaining moderate holdouts to get on board.
Last week, Johnson and Gonzales led a delegation of over 50 House Republicans in Eagle Pass, Texas, to tour the border and hear from officials first-hand; several key vulnerable Republicans, including from New York, were among those in attendance.
Gonzales declined to comment on the Mayorkas impeachment push.
Border battle upends 2024 agenda
The impeachment battle comes as immigration is expected to dominate the congressional session. While the GOP is taking steps to impeach Mayorkas, senators are engaged in intense talks over new border policies to unlock aid to Ukraine and Israel. And in the House, a growing number of Republicans are willing to try to sink a must-pass bill to keep the government open unless their restrictive immigration measures are included in it.
“I want to say if our president and the Democrats and whoever doesn’t love our country and the citizens enough, respect our laws enough to shut down our border then we need to use our leverage, which is cutting off their funding in order to force them to shut the border,” said Illinois Rep. Mary Miller, a member of the House Freedom Caucus.
The White House, however, has labeled those calls as hypocritical, noting a government shutdown would threaten national security and the very resources dedicated to securing the border.
“As President Biden and both parties in the Senate seek common ground to address the needs of the American people, their conference is instead choosing extreme politics that would subject American families to needless pain,” White House spokesman Andrew Bates said of House Republicans.
D’Esposito said that he’s “not in favor” of shutting down the government. Yet he added: “I often don’t fully agree with the Freedom Caucus members, but I will say I understand their frustration.”
While GOP leadership hasn’t gone as far as calling to shut down the government over the border, they are making the issue a top priority in 2024. And when asked whether he thinks they should use the upcoming government funding deadline as leverage for their border demands, Scalise told CNN: “Every tool and option for fixing our broken and open southern border needs to be on the table.”