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Mayorkas soldiers on through budget hearings, despite impeachment

Embattled Homeland Security secretary faced grillings in both chambers Wednesday

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas testifies during a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing on his agency's fiscal 2025 budget request on Wednesday.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas testifies during a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing on his agency's fiscal 2025 budget request on Wednesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas fended off Republican attacks on his fiscal 2025 budget request Wednesday as he braced for a Senate impeachment trial next week.

Republicans on the House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee tore into his $62.2 billion budget request at a morning hearing, saying it lacks the funding needed to shore up the U.S. southern border.

“This request is not serious,” said Subcommittee Chairman David Joyce, R-Ohio, who pointed to a proposed 7,500-bed cut in detention capacity and the lack of new funding for a border wall, among other concerns.

“This budget is not only full of gimmicks that mask the true cost of protecting the homeland, but it also fails to address the policy-driven crisis that continues at the border,” Joyce said.

The public grilling — and a similar one Senate appropriators held Wednesday afternoon — comes a week before House leaders plan to deliver articles of impeachment against Mayorkas to the Senate for a trial. The House adopted two impeachment articles in February, alleging “willful and systemic refusal to comply with the law” and “breach of public trust” on a 214-213 vote.

[House delays sending Mayorkas impeachment to Senate]

But Mayorkas — the first Cabinet secretary to be impeached in more than a century — stood his ground and fired back at Congress for not passing a bipartisan immigration plan that was initially part of a Senate war funding and border package.

“Only Congress can fix our broken and outdated system,” Mayorkas said. “And only Congress can address our need for more border patrol agents, asylum officers and immigration judges, facilities and technologies.”

Mayorkas also faulted Congress for passing fiscal 2024 appropriations nearly six months late. The spending package for his department “was enacted too late to implement an appreciable hiring surge,” he said, and cut “much-needed support for cities dealing with migrant-related challenges and critical research and development funding, the compounding effects of which our department will feel for years.”

‘Needs to end yesterday’

The criticism followed the embattled secretary to a Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee hearing hours later, where senators from both parties agreed the proposed budget does not provide enough money to secure the border.

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., who is locked in a tight reelection race this fall, slammed “illegal immigration” at the border, saying it “needs to end and needs to end yesterday.” 

And the panel’s ranking Republican, Alabama Sen. Katie Britt, said the department’s budget plan does not follow the model of this year’s appropriations law “and instead repeats the same mistakes of his previous budget request.”

[Senate Republicans preview fight over Mayorkas impeachment]

Others used the hearing to delve into various policy concerns about the sprawling department, which also oversees the Coast Guard. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, for example, complained about a lack of Coast Guard resources in the Arctic.

“You’ve got an Arctic that is wide open and getting wider and more open all the time and you know that the resources that we have up there to cover that huge expanse are not sufficient,” she said. 

Mayorkas agreed, saying Russia has 30 to 50 vessels capable of navigating the Arctic waters while the United States has two ships that are “antiquated.” “I would be eager to work with you to plus up the Coast Guard’s budget,” he told Murkowski.

The House panel’s top Democrat, Texas Rep. Henry Cuellar, praised Mayorkas and his department on multiple fronts, but agreed with Joyce that the number of detention beds shouldn’t be cut from the 41,500 approved this fiscal year.

And Rep. Michael Guest, R-Miss., asked Mayorkas why he proposed cutting the number of beds to 35,000 when he also supports the 50,000 beds that were proposed in the Senate’s bipartisan border plan earlier this year.

Mayorkas, under similar questioning from Rep. Ashley Hinson, R-Iowa, said his fiscal 2025 request for 35,000 beds was submitted before Congress completed the delayed fiscal 2024 appropriations, which allowed for 41,500. He told Guest he would support the 50,000 as part of the Senate border compromise plan.

Joyce, in a later interview,  said that building the border wall and increasing funding for detention beds, border technology and Border Patrol agents are all priorities for the fiscal 2025 process. Appropriators are aiming to get bills out of committee by May, he said.

House Republicans used much of the hearing to levy familiar criticism of President Joe Biden’s immigration policy at the border.

“Your immigration policy is in chaos,” said Rep. John Rutherford, R-Fla. “You don’t need Congress to do anything. The president’s got the ability to do it. You just need to talk to him to get it done.”

In an interview on the Spanish-language network Univision that aired Tuesday, Biden said he was considering issuing an executive order that would dramatically limit the number of asylum-seekers who could cross the border. Mayorkas declined to confirm those plans when asked about it at the House hearing.

Republicans also attacked Mayorkas for proposing a $4.7 billion contingency fund that would be designed to respond quickly to changing conditions at the border.

“This slush fund proposed last year was rejected on a bipartisan basis because Republicans and Democrats alike recognize that giving this department billions of dollars with very little congressional oversight and no incentive to change course would likely exacerbate the existing situation,” Joyce said.

Hinson, who again called on Mayorkas to resign, called the contingency fund idea “appalling.” Mayorkas did not respond directly to that criticism.

Michael Macagnone and Aidan Quigley contributed to this report.

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