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Confirmation for No. 2 Homeland Security job moves ahead

Democrats on the Senate Homeland Security Committee have decided to push ahead with confirmation of President Obama’s nominee for the No. 2 job at the Department of Homeland Security amid objections from Republicans.

GOP members on the panel see the move as an effort by Democrats to rush the approval of a controversial nominee by taking advantage of new Senate rules. Last month, the Senate adopted procedures that allow confirmation of presidential nominees by a majority vote instead of the 60 votes required in the past.

The nominee to be DHS deputy secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas, has been under investigation by the department’s inspector general over allegations that he mismanaged a visa program for foreign investors, a claim he has emphatically denied.

Sen. Tom Coburn (Okla.), the ranking Republican on the Homeland Security Committee, called the decision to proceed with Mayorkas’s confirmation “troubling.”

“Changing the Senate rules to expedite the approval of nominees who are under investigation isn’t the kind of reform the American people want,” Coburn said in a statement.

Alejandro Mayorkas, President Obama's nominee to become deputy secretary of the Homeland Security Department, testifies July 25 on Capitol Hill. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

The chairman of the committee, Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.), said Thursday that he would convene a meeting of the panel next week to wrap up consideration of Mayorkas, who runs the department’s citizenship and immigration services division. Republicans view the move as breaking an informal agreement that there would be no action on Mayorkas until the DHS inquiry was concluded.

On Thursday, Carper said it was no longer possible to wait for the conclusion of the inspector general’s inquiry. Carper’s staff also said there was no formal agreement to wait for the end of that investigation.

“We simply cannot afford to continue to leave DHS rudderless any longer,” Carper said Thursday. “Given that the investigation has no end in sight and has not identified any criminal misconduct, I believe that we must move forward with director Mayorkas’s nomination.”

This past summer, Republicans boycotted a hearing for Mayorkas, marking a rare divide for a panel known for its ability to conduct inquiries and confirmation hearings without partisan rancor. At the time, Coburn said he had drawn no conclusion about Mayorkas but asked for a delay because of the probe.

The nomination debate was politically fraught from the start, in part because the allegations against Mayorkas included a charge that he had shown favoritism toward Democrat Terry McAuliffe, who went on to win last month’s gubernatorial election in Virginia.

As director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Mayorkas was responsible for a visa program that allows foreign investors to enter the United States on condition they create jobs. McAuliffe sought to speed up consideration of visa applications for the car firm he partly owns, GreenTech Automotive.

Mayorkas acknowledged meeting with McAuliffe but called allegations of improper assistance “unequivocally false.” Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) has continued to probe Majorkas’s role in granting such visas.

Since that hearing, Carper has called attention to vacancies at DHS. With GOP support, the committee recently approved the White House pick to run the department, Jeh Johnson, whose confirmation awaits Senate-floor action. Johnson has bipartisan support, although there have been some objections to his confirmation.

Carper said that the No. 2 position needs to be filled as well, and that it is unfair to delay further.

“Countless individuals from across the political spectrum strongly support director Mayorkas and have spoken highly of his experience, his integrity and his credentials for the role of deputy secretary,” he said.

Tom Hamburger covers the intersection of money and politics for The Washington Post.

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