Skip to content

Mayorkas impeachment is a portrait in partisan posturing

It’s difficult to see the political upside for Republicans

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas prepares to testify during a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing last November.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas prepares to testify during a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing last November. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Impeachment was once considered the most serious and solemn constitutional obligation of Congress.

Then-Sen. John F. Kennedy, in his Pulitzer-Prize winning “Profiles in Courage,” devoted a key chapter to lionizing Kansas Republican Sen. Edmund Ross for his deciding vote against the 1868 impeachment of President Andrew Johnson.

Kennedy’s historical perspective is flawed, reflecting 1950s orthodoxy that was gushingly sympathetic to the South in its opposition to Reconstruction. But JFK captured the importance of impeachment as he wrote that Ross with his vote “may well have preserved for ourselves and posterity constitutional government in the United States.”

In 1974, President Richard Nixon resigned after the House Judiciary Committee voted to impeach him.

If any Republicans want to know how gravely impeachment was considered half a century ago, they need only to ask their prime Senate recruit, former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan. His father, Lawrence Hogan, became the first Republican on the Judiciary Committee to support Nixon’s impeachment, an act of courage that derailed his political career.

All this is the context as House Republicans, the gold standard for legislative seriousness, finally present to the Senate this week articles of impeachment against Alejandro Mayorkas, the secretary of Homeland Security.

Back in February, Mayorkas became the first Cabinet member to be impeached since Ulysses S. Grant was in the White House. It is not like Cabinet members have been pillars of rectitude since 1876: Both former Attorney General John Mitchell (Watergate) and former Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall (the Teapot Dome scandal) went to prison after being convicted of federal crimes.

As near as can be ascertained, the House impeached Mayorkas for the high crime of not pretending that Donald Trump was still president. With Joe Biden in the White House, Mayorkas (get the smelling salts) reversed some of the prior administration’s border policies.

But wait, that’s not all.

Mark E. Green, who chairs the House Committee on Homeland Security, justified impeachment in an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal. According to Green, Mayorkas had the temerity to testify that “the border is no less secure than it was previously.” Green called that “a demonstrable lie.”

Of course, never before in American history has a Cabinet member tried to put a positive spin on what was happening on his or her watch. I assume that Green will soon offer a “Truth in Testimony” bill that would mandate life imprisonment for gilding the lily in an appearance before Congress.

The surface explanation is that Republicans were just playing politics, using Mayorkas as a symbol of GOP opposition to the crisis at the border.

But why did they need to impeach Mayorkas to make this point? A recent AP-NORC poll found that 69 percent of Americans already disapprove of Biden’s handling of border security.

If congressional Republicans truly cared about border security, they might have supported conservative GOP Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford’s bipartisan legislation to strengthen enforcement.

But Trump in February posted on social media that the bill was a “great gift to the Democrats, and a Death Wish for The Republican Party.” Small wonder that Lankford admitted, “I feel like the guy standing in the middle of the field in a thunderstorm, holding up the metal stick.”

It is hard to see the political upside for any House Republican in impeaching Mayorkas. You can imagine the TV spot with imagery of immigrants surging across the border: “Joe Biden and the Democrats have created chaos at the border. Republicans care so much about stopping illegal immigration that we impeached the guy in charge. Of course, that’s all we did to solve the problem.”

Senate Democrats, led by Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York, are likely to vote this week to dismiss the charges against Mayorkas without a trial. With legislative days already running short in an election year, this would be a prudent move rather than forcing senators to sit through a protracted trial with a predetermined outcome.

Over the weekend, the Senate Republican Conference released a memo demanding that the “Senate must convene a full trial” in order to give “the American people transparency and accountability.”

Providing transparency over policy differences is not why impeachment was enshrined in the Constitution. If the Republicans want accountability from Mayorkas, they will have plenty of opportunities to besiege him with tough questions as he testifies before the House and Senate Appropriations committees this week.

The impeachment of Mayorkas illustrates the breakdown of norms that govern our democracy. For two centuries, there was an unwritten bipartisan agreement that impeachment was too powerful a weapon to be brandished for frivolous reasons.

In hindsight, Bill Clinton should have been censured by Congress in 1998 for lying under oath about his entanglement with a White House intern less than half his age. Instead, 55 senators, including 10 Republicans, voted against conviction in Clinton’s impeachment trial.

Let me stress that there was nothing frivolous about Trump’s two impeachments. Shaking down Ukraine for dirt on Biden and encouraging a mob to ransack the Capitol were not wrist-slap offenses that can be dismissed by saying, “Boys will be boys.”

But the Mayorkas impeachment is in another universe compared with Trump or even Clinton. In fact, if a book were to be ever written about the House vote to impeach, an apt title might be “Profiles in Partisan Posturing.”

Recent Stories

Strange things are afoot at the Capitol

Photos of the week ending May 24, 2024

Getting down on the Senate floor — Congressional Hits and Misses

US-China tech race will determine values that shape the future

What’s at stake in Texas runoff elections on Tuesday

Democrats decry ‘very, very harmful’ riders in Legislative Branch bill