House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) called on Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to resign Tuesday or face investigations next year that could lead to his impeachment by a House GOP majority.
“Our country may never recover from Secretary Mayorkas’s dereliction of duty,” McCarthy said after he and six other Republicans visited U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel in El Paso.
McCarthy and other Republicans challenged Mayorkas’ assertions, most recently at a congressional hearing last week, that the border is “secure.”
“We can’t find one border agent who agrees with him. So we will investigate,” McCarthy said.
Mayorkas has no plans to resign, Department of Homeland Security officials said Tuesday, noting the agency is managing a record number of apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border, including of people fleeing repressive regimes in Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua, who cannot easily be deported.
“Secretary Mayorkas is proud to advance the noble mission of this Department, support its extraordinary workforce, and serve the American people,” spokeswoman Marsha Espinosa said in an email. “Members of Congress can do better than point the finger at someone else; they should come to the table and work on solutions for our broken system and outdated laws, which have not been overhauled in over 40 years.”
The push to investigate Mayorkas began long before Tuesday as House Republicans campaigned to immediately oust him if they regained the majority. Republicans have united around targeting Mayorkas and President Biden for what they say is their collective failure to contain the surge of migrants at the border by undoing restrictive measures put in place by former president Donald Trump. They also say the administration lacks enough personnel to adequately deal with the influx of people and illegal drugs, such as fentanyl, from entering the United States.
While the border has become a uniting issue for House Republicans, the approach to passing substantive immigration reform that could lift the strain on border patrol agents has splintered the ideologically divided conference. GOP members and aides, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations, remain pessimistic that reform can be achieved given how politically toxic the immigration debate has become within their own ranks.
The incredibly tight margins will force Republicans to work with Democrats if they want to see any reforms passed through a Democratic-controlled Senate and signed by Biden. Rep. Tony Gonzales (R), who represents the largest portion of the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas, says he has conversations with Democrats weekly, including on immigration reforms, which he says begins with securing the border by ensuring that those who do not qualify for asylum are immediately sent back to their country of origin.
“I’m looking for partners, and it’s been very difficult in this political environment to find partners that want to have a real conversation. But we’re still able to do it,” he said, before pointing to the Bipartisan Border Solutions Act he proposed alongside Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Tex.).
But the razor-thin majority Republicans were dealt this midterm election will make it more difficult for the party to find a legislative pathway given the staunchly conservative House Freedom Caucus, which blocked efforts by previous GOP speakers John A. Boehner (Ohio) and Paul D. Ryan (Wis.) to reform immigration laws because they deemed the proposals too lax.
That is why Republicans have zeroed in on investigations against the Biden administration, a benefit they are given as the party in charge of the House. Besides investigating Mayorkas, Republicans have pledged to look into the business dealings and art sales of Biden’s son Hunter, the Biden administration’s military withdrawal from Afghanistan, the origins of the novel coronavirus; coronavirus-related school closures, the administration’s deliberations over weapons sales to Ukraine, and the spending of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection.
Mayorkas, a former U.S. attorney and deputy homeland security secretary during the Obama administration, has been the chief steward of the Biden administration’s complicated efforts to create a more humane immigration system while also creating a more orderly system at the border. He is also responsible for ending family migrant detention and criticized the prior Republican administration for forcibly separating migrant children from their parents at the border.
But Mayorkas has also faced criticism for the mass arrivals of migrants from Latin America and other regions, especially from Republicans who say the Biden administration’s policies are encouraging migrants to attempt to enter the United States in search of better lives.
McCarthy’s move comes days after he battled for leadership in the narrowly divided House and as the Department of Homeland Security is preparing to wind down one of the Trump administration’s most significant border policies, known as Title 42, which allows border officials to expel migrants instead of allowing them into the United States to seek asylum or release pending a court hearing. The policy has led to more than 2.4 million expulsions, mostly from the southern border.
Officials tried to end Title 42 in May, but a lawsuit filed in Louisiana by 24 states temporarily stopped them. Another federal judge, in the District of Columbia, vacated the policy last week and gave the administration until Dec. 21 to end it.
Trump’s staunchest allies are calling for immediately impeaching Mayorkas and Biden for the border crisis rather than delaying the actions by investigating them. McCarthy has previously signaled a cautious approach toward impeachment.
“We never do impeachment for political purposes,” McCarthy said Tuesday. “If the investigation leads to an impeachment inquiry, we will follow through.”
GOP members and aides have privately mused their hope that removing Mayorkas may be enough of a scalp to throw at Trump’s “Make America Great Again” base than also going after Biden and establishing a precedent for the House majority to impeach every president that is not of its party.
“I think the president and Mayorkas have shown a dereliction of duty on the border. I say that as a middle-of-the-road conservative dealmaker,” said Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.). “This is an issue that we should be doing oversight on.”
Bacon echoed McCarthy and cautioned that just impeaching members of the Biden administration would “hurt us in the long run,” since swing voters, like the ones he represents, don’t want to see a GOP majority only focus on investigations.
Impeachment also faces even longer odds in the Senate, where a Democratic majority is likely to vote to acquit any member of the Biden administration. The only Cabinet member to be impeached was William Belknap, president Ulysses S. Grant’s secretary of war, in 1876 for accepting bribes.
McCarthy’s public declaration against Mayorkas was seen by some as an early signal to the Freedom Caucus that he is taking seriously their calls to investigate the Biden administration at a time when he’s facing trouble securing the 218 votes necessary to officially become speaker Jan. 3.
McCarthy was nominated to be speaker last week behind closed door after a plurality of members supported his candidacy, but he fell shy of the 218 he would need in January after Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), a member of the Freedom Caucus, earned 31 votes.
Five Freedom Caucus members have said so far that they would not support McCarthy in January, a total that could be enough to sink his chances on the floor vote if Republicans have the majority only by four or five seats once all races are called.
One way to keep the Freedom Caucus appeased is based on whom McCarthy and his leadership team tap to lead the House Homeland Security Committee. Reps. Mark Green (R-Tenn.) and Dan Crenshaw (R-Tex.), who were on the trip to El Paso, are vying for the top spot after Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.) announced he would not seek reelection. The Freedom Caucus is hoping McCarthy and his allies choose Green as they look to expand their influence atop committees, a right previous GOP speakers had forbidden.
Mayorkas’s future came up during a homeland security committee hearing last week, when Republicans such as Freedom Caucus member Rep. Michael Guest (Miss.) applauded him for pressuring former Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Chris Magnus to resign after less than a year on the job. But when Rep. Jake LaTurner (R-Kan.) asked if he would also step down, Mayorkas stated he had no plans on doing so.
“I am very proud of what we have accomplished,” Mayorkas told LaTurner at the hearing. “I’m very committed to accomplishing more.”
“I hope for the sake of the safety of the American people that conversation happens very soon,” LaTurner said.
Rep. Clay Higgins (R-La.) was clearer in his threat, telling Mayorkas, “We look forward to seeing you in January.”
Jacqueline Alemany contributed to this report.
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