ANALYSIS — Immigration is shaping the 2024 campaign, and the hot-button issue soon could overwhelm Capitol Hill and bring work in both chambers to a halt.
Republicans felt pressure last year by interest groups to run, in part, on a 15-week federal abortion ban. But the politics of that sensitive issue turned sharply against the GOP. Another 2024 grenade Republicans had planned to toss onto the 2024 battlefield was the economy. But recent economic data suggests key indicators are making voters’ finances more robust, potentially handing President Joe Biden and Democrats the issue on the campaign trail.
That has made immigration — including the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border, which even many Democrats now call a “crisis” — the engine of the Republican message machine.
Former President Donald Trump shocked Senate Republicans recently by urging House GOP leaders to reject any deal the other chamber might broker with the White House over a supplemental spending measure that includes a border and immigration section unless it is “perfect.” Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., has been more than happy to follow Trump’s orders.
In fact, Johnson is going even further, vowing Friday to go full speed ahead toward floor action on articles of impeachment against Biden’s Homeland Security secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas.
Should those articles hit the House floor, expect legislative work to grind to a halt while members debate their allegations of high crimes and misdemeanors. House Republicans charge that Mayorkas refused to enforce the letter of existing immigration laws, a contention he and Biden administration officials deny.
Senators have been trying for months to strike a deal among themselves and with White House officials on changes to immigration laws that would be included in a possible emergency spending measure for Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan and the southern border.
Trump’s desire to base his 2024 White House bid on an anti-immigration message has raised new questions over the last week about whether an immigration piece could even be included. Johnson tried driving a lethal stake through it in a letter Friday to his GOP mates.
The speaker essentially mocked the other chamber while making his immigration-related plans clear, writing, “the Senate appears unable to reach any agreement.” Then came the dagger: “If rumors about the contents of the draft proposal are true, it would have been dead on arrival in the House anyway,” Johnson wrote.
He then turned his ire on Mayorkas.
Johnson announced articles of impeachment against the DHS chief would be before the House Homeland Security Committee this week, adding “a vote on the floor will be held as soon as possible thereafter.”
Should Johnson find a way, with his three-seat majority, to garner the approval of the chamber for one or all of those articles, it could lead to a Senate trial. And bring the already plodding pace of the election-year Senate to a halt.
‘In the way’
Ample floor time likely would be required, with amendments possible, for any emergency spending deal. But that would be put on the shelf, since impeachment articles supersede other business, giving opponents more time to try convincing enough senators to vote against it.
What’s more, the chamber has yet to approve its versions of a number of fiscal 2024 spending measures. Those also would require gobs of floor time that would be scant during a Mayorkas impeachment trial.
Convicting Mayorkas and removing him from office would require the support of two-thirds of the senators voting, in a chamber with a Democratic majority.
But Ross Garber, a Tulane University professor, posted on X, formerly Twitter, that the Senate would not be automatically required to hold a trial.
“If the House impeaches, the Senate has options. It could hold a trial OR just dismiss the articles OR name a committee to hold hearings and make a recommendation on conviction/acquittal to the full Senate,” he wrote. “Odds of conviction: 0.0%”
Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., has not yet announced how he would handle any impeachment articles the House might send over.
Meantime, Johnson’s letter came three days after White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre called out the speaker over his opposition to the Senate/administration talks about the possible national security supplemental spending package.
“He’s getting in the way,” she told reporters on Jan. 23, going about as far as she has as Biden’s second press secretary in homing in on any single GOP lawmaker.
Jean-Pierre at several points last week said Biden would welcome Johnson’s and other House Republicans’ involvement in ongoing talks. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby, who briefed just before Jean-Pierre on Jan. 23, said House Republicans “claim” to care a lot about the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border — but have done nothing to remedy the situation.
Johnson’s Friday letter came a few days before a Democratic group announced it would be running ads targeting 17 House Republicans who won districts in 2022 that Biden did in 2020. “Let us be clear — this bogus impeachment is as wrong as it is immoral and it will blow up in their faces. And if Republicans from swing districts and especially districts Biden won in 2020 think they can quietly support this nonsense without repercussions, they are as delusional as Donald Trump,” the executive director of the Congressional Integrity Project, Kyle Herrig, said in a Monday statement.
‘Will not enforce’
In many ways, Johnson’s letter is the continuation of House Republicans’ most conservative — and rambunctious — faction working hard at backing just about everyone else on Capitol Hill into a corner. And, since the past is typically prologue in Washington, any attempts by any other group to free itself will be noisy.
House Freedom Caucus and aligned GOP members have spent over a year griping about the size of the federal government and how much it spends. They have demanded deep cuts, and repeatedly balked at any and all spending deals two speakers have reached with Democrats and the Biden administration. The result is a fiscal 2024 appropriations process stuck in the mud.
The House GOP conference’s right flank has good reason to keep it up when the chamber returns next week. And beyond.
A likely lengthy impeachment floor process in the House, then a trial in the Senate, would complicate work toward finishing all 12 fiscal 2024 appropriations bills. And the clock is ticking toward a deadline that would bring a big loss for Democrats in both chambers, many Senate Republicans and White House officials.
The 2023 debt limit law would trigger automatic cuts to nondefense spending if fiscal 2024 appropriations bills are not completed by April 30. That has long been a big goal of the same House conservatives who have demanded a Mayorkas impeachment attempt.
What’s more, work in both chambers on other matters — including Biden’s judicial nominations in the Senate — also could be slowed during a Mayorkas impeachment process.
But in the House, the speaker has made clear the list of work items will not include any Senate national security-immigration measure.
“Many of our constituents have asked an important question: ‘What is the point of negotiating new laws with an administration that will not enforce the laws already on the books?’” Johnson wrote. “If President Biden wants us to believe he is serious about protecting our national sovereignty, he needs to demonstrate his good faith by taking immediate actions to secure it. He should sign an order right now to end the mass release of illegals and dangerous persons into our country.”
Notably, however, the speaker did not offer to drop the time-consuming impeachment push in return for a few executive orders.
In a twist that could cause some added pressure on House GOP members, Biden said in a Friday evening statement that the measure the Senate could take up would give him new authorities to “shut down” the border. But Johnson fired back on Sunday, saying in a statement that claim was “untrue.”
“As I explained to him in a letter late last year, and have specifically reiterated to him on multiple occasions since,” Johnson said of the president, “he can and must take executive action immediately to reverse the catastrophe he has created.”