The House of Representatives on Tuesday sought a vote to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas on charges that he willfully refused to enforce border laws and violated the public trust, as Republicans push for a partisan indictment of President Biden’s immigration policies.
With just hours until the scheduled vote, GOP leaders expressed confidence that they would have enough support to impeach Mr. Mayorkas. But with Republicans controlling the House by a narrow margin — and Democrats staunchly opposed — they couldn’t afford more than two defections. Two of their members have already declared that they will vote against, while several of them are still publicly undecided.
On Tuesday morning, Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., announced he would vote against the charges, joining Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colorado, who had already vowed to break with his party over the issue. A handful of other Republicans remained on the fence, and at least one of them — Rep. Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin — expressed concern about the allegations at a closed-door party meeting Tuesday morning.
Still, when asked Tuesday afternoon if he had the votes to pass the impeachment, President Mike Johnson said, “I believe we do.”
Republican skeptics have privately warned that future Republican cabinet members could face the same treatment if the House now impeaches Mr. Mayorkas, making him the first cabinet member to suffer such a fate.
“I respect everybody’s position on that,” Mr. Johnson told reporters Tuesday as he emerged from a morning meeting where some Republicans expressed their reservations. “I understand the gravity of impeachment.”
“I don’t believe there has ever been a cabinet secretary who so blatantly, openly, deliberately and without remorse did exactly the opposite of what federal law required him to do,” Mr Johnson added, saying impeachment was “an extreme measure, but an extreme one times call for extreme measures.”
Republicans are pushing ahead despite assessments by legal experts, including some prominent conservatives, that Mr. Mayorkas has not committed high crimes and misdemeanors, the constitutional threshold for impeachment. In a lengthy statement released Tuesday morning, Mr. McClintock said he agreed with that assessment.
“They have failed to identify the crime against impeachment that Mayorkas committed,” Mr. McClintock wrote, adding that the charges “stretch and distort the Constitution to hold the administration accountable for stretching and breaking the law.”
The move is an escalation of efforts by Republicans to attack Mr. Biden and Democrats over immigration, as the two parties clash over how best to secure the border in an election year when the issue is expected to take center stage in the presidential campaign.
House Republicans are pushing ahead with impeachment as they work to destroy a bipartisan deal that has emerged in the Senate, pairing a new infusion of funding for Ukraine with a border crackdown. They argued that the measure was too weak and that neither Mr. Biden nor Mr. Mayorkas could be trusted to secure the border.
If Mr. Mayorkas is impeached, the charges would go before the Democratic-led Senate for trial where he is almost certain to be acquitted. Leaders have yet to say whether they will hold a full trial, which would require a two-thirds majority to convict the national security secretary, or try to dismiss the charges entirely without a hearing.
The measure set for a vote on Tuesday would also appoint 11 impeachment managers to debate the case against Mr. Mayorkas in the Senate, including Representative Mark E. Green, Republican of Tennessee and chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, and Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene. Republican from Georgia, who led the charge to file a constitutional lawsuit seeking his removal. The group also includes Reps. 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 .
House Democrats have rejected the impeachment effort outright, accusing Republicans of abusing a constitutional tool meant only against officials who have committed crimes or abused their office.
“This bogus impeachment attempt is not really about border security; it’s about Republican politics and subversion of the Constitution,” said Rep. Benny Thompson of Mississippi, the top Democrat on the Homeland Security panel, accusing Republicans of “taking their marching orders from Donald Trump.”
Mr. Trump’s influence as he tries to return to the White House has loomed large over the immigration debate on Capitol Hill, particularly over the Senate border deal, which he campaigned against. House Republicans have also frequently cited his immigration legacy in making their case against Mr. Mayorkas, who they accuse of dismantling the former president’s border policies for political purposes.
The first article of impeachment 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 southwest border for immigration court dates, with a “catch and release” policy that allowed migrants roam freely in the United States. Republicans accuse him of ignoring multiple mandates of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which says migrants “shall be detained” pending asylum decisions and removal orders, and of acting beyond his authority to let migrants into the country.
Democrats pushed back hard, noting that Mr. Mayorkas, like previous Homeland Security secretaries, has the right to set policies to manage waves of migrants arriving at the border. This includes the temporary entry of certain migrants into the country for humanitarian reasons and the prioritization of which migrants to retain, especially when working with limited resources.
Another article accuses Mr. Mayorkas of violating public trust by misrepresenting the state of the border and blocking congressional efforts to investigate him. Republicans base the accusations on Mr. Mayorkas’ 2022 claim that his department had “operational control” of the border, defined by a 2006 statute as the absence of any illegal crossing of migrants or drugs. Mr. Mayorkas said he was instead referring to the less absolute definition used by the Border Patrol.
They also accuse Mr. Mayorkas for failing to produce documents, including materials he was ordered to give them under subpoena, during the investigation into his border policy and avoiding their efforts to compel him to testify as part of their impeachment proceedings. Administration officials countered that Mr. Mayorkas produced tens of thousands of pages of documents in accordance with the commission’s requirements. He offered to testify in person, but council Republicans withdrew their invitation to appear after the two sides ran into scheduling issues.