The new House GOP majority is taking its first step Wednesday toward a goal that’s openly dividing its members: booting DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas from office.
Republicans will start laying the groundwork on two tracks this week to potentially impeach Mayorkas over his handling of the border — a historically rare step that hasn’t been used against a Cabinet member since 1876. Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who would lead any impeachment inquiry, is holding what he promises will be the first in a series of hearings on the border on Wednesday, while Oversight Committee Chair James Comer (R-Ky.) plans to launch his own opening salvo next week.
And while one group of Republicans prepares to make their case, another is ready to start impeachment immediately. The House GOP’s right flank has already filed an impeachment resolution and Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) is now circulating his own proposal. Meanwhile, centrists are warning they aren’t on board and recent polls have suggested the public is wary of an excessive focus on investigations.
It marks another test for House GOP leaders, as they try to balance the demands of more moderate members and a base that’s eager to go scorched-earth against President Joe Biden and other administration officials. Not to mention that Republicanswillhave to navigate a barrage of criticism from Democrats and their allies, who accuse the GOP of using the border as a wedge issue to enact political revenge over policy differences.
Republicanswhowantto impeach Mayorkas acknowledge they haven’t reached a critical mass within their own conference, though Republican Study Committee Chair Rep. Kevin Hern (R-Okla.) predicted that there would be “a lot of sentiment” among GOPlawmakers to remove the DHS secretary. Ifaresolution came to the floor, Republicans could only afford to lose four votes within their own party.
“I think when you lay the case out as any impeachment happens, I think [support] grows. Obviously, it’s not going to happen instantaneously,” Hern said when asked if the conference should move toward impeachment without the votes locked down.
Yet other leadership allies are warning against officially moving forward with impeachment without a baked-in result. Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), part of a shrinking pool of House GOP pragmatists, warned against forcing members to stake out a stance on a controversial topic if it’s not guaranteed of success.
“I just don’t think it’s helpful to put people in that position,” he said.
The eager-to-impeach right flank has so far largely lobbed two broad arguments against Mayorkas: That he’s lost operational control of the border, and that he lied under oath when he told Congress the border was secure. And while their early hearings are focused on the border broadly, GOP lawmakers have signaled they will try to use the bully pulpit of their majority to demonstrate that the administration hasn’t complied with the law.
The administration and congressional Democrats, meanwhile, argue Republicans are overstating what amounts to policy differences over the handling of the border. Democrats, and even some Republicans, are quick to point out that is a far cry from the high bar for impeachment of “high crimes and misdemeanors.”
Mayorkas has repeatedly defended his handling of the border, signaling he has no intention of giving into the GOP calls for his resignation. Asked during an MSNBC interview on Tuesday about the House GOP impeachment articles, Mayorkas urged Republicans to take up legislation that would fix what he called a “terribly broken” and “outdated” immigration system. The party has attempted sweeping changes to immigration law and border security multiple times in the last decade, to no avail.
“We are doing everything that we can to increase its efficiency to provide humanitarian relief when the law permits and to also deliver an enforcement consequence when the law dictates,” Mayorkas said.
Hill Democrats are privately betting that conservatives’ impeachment pledge will put its moderates in a bind. A House aide, granted anonymity to speak frankly, predicted that “those members are going to start getting real antsy real fast,” as others try to get into “crazy, wacko border security stuff.”
And it’s more than members in purple districts who may feel squeezed by impeachment talk. Republicans will also be playing defense in a cache of blue-leaning seats come 2024 when their thin majority is on the line. Some GOP members in those districts, even if they strongly disagree with Mayorkas’ handling of the border, are openly skeptical their voters want to see him removed.
“I do think what’s going on at the border is negligence, dereliction of duty, but I’m not convinced that impeaching Mayorkas is going to solve the problem. I think we need the election in 2024 to change the White House,” Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) said, though he cautioned that hearings could give a better sense of how voters feel about the issue.
Others, including Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) and Mike Lawler (R-N.Y.), have warned that they think the party needs to focus on policies like fighting inflation. And then there’s border Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-Texas), emerging as a vote to watch in the GOP-controlled House, who is viewed as an impeachment skeptic after describing it in January as a “in case of emergency break glass” option.
Gonzales reiterated during a sit-down interview with POLITICO on Tuesday that he wasn’t going to get ahead of any potential proceedings.
A recent spate of polling offers its own cautionary tale for Republicans. Fifty-five percent of respondents to a recent NBC News poll said they expected Republicans leading investigations into Biden and the administration “will spend too much time on the investigations and not enough time on other priorities.”
Nearly three-fourths of respondents to a separate CNN poll said they thought Republicans hadn’t yet paid attention to the country’s “most important priorities.” Nearly half named economic issues as the most important topic, compared to 11 percent listing immigration.
So far, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is only pledging an investigation. Asked recently about his November remarks calling for Mayorkas to resign, the California Republican told reporters that that the House GOP will conduct their probe and said that could lead to an impeachment inquiry. But he wouldn’t pre-judge an outcome, as many top Republicans hope the case made in committee hearings will win over enough wary colleagues and disinterested voters.
“If a person is derelict in their duties and they are harming Americans and Americans are actually dying by the lack of their work, that could rise to that occasion,” he told reporters.
The Wednesday Judiciary Committee hearing will include testimony from non-administration officials: Brandon Dunn, the co-founder of Forever 15 Project, a group that tries to raise awareness about Fentanyl poisoning; Dale Lynn Carruthers, a county judge in Texas; and Mark Dannels, a sheriff in Arizona. The latter two have both been critical of Biden’s border policies.
Over on the Oversight Committee, Comer announced on Tuesday night that the Department of Homeland Security had offered, and he had accepted, to have two Border Patrol officials testify next week: Gloria Chavez and John Modlin, chief Border Patrol agents.
Neither of the two GOP chairs are ruling out using subpoenas to try to get witnesses and documents they want from the department. Their panel members have backed up that strategy.
“We’re going to use the power of subpoena,” Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) said. “And we’ve got to use the power of subpoena to haul Mayorkas in front of the Judiciary Committee.”