Texas Republicans rue Democrats for dismissing Mayorkas impeachment without trial

U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, center, gives remarks during a visit to Brownsville while President Joe Biden, San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg and U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen listen on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024.
U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, center, gives remarks during a visit to Brownsville while President Joe Biden, San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg and U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen listen on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. Credit: Eli Hartman/The Texas Tribune

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate swiftly tossed the impeachment articles against Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Wednesday, but not without an effort by Texas’ senators and other Republicans to have a full Senate trial for the secretary.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer adjourned the trial on a simple majority vote, after 51 Democrats voted to dismiss the charges brought by the House, deeming them unconstitutional. The outcome of the impeachment effort had long been anticipated. Democrats control a majority in the Senate, and the Constitution requires a two-thirds majority in the upper chamber to convict.

But several Republicans made an effort to have a trial in the upper chamber where they could air their grievances against Mayorkas, and later warned that Democrats set a dangerous precedent by refusing to hear an impeachment trial.

“The majority leader’s position is asking members of this Senate to vote on political expediency to avoid listening to arguments,” said Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. “The only way to actually resolve this question is to debate it, to consider the Constitution and to consider the law.”

The House impeached Mayorkas on a party-line vote in February, asserting he failed to enforce the law on the border and lied to Congress when he said the administration had control of the border. He’s the first cabinet secretary to be impeached in 150 years. Democrats decried the impeachment as a partisan attack.

House impeachment managers, including Texas Reps. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, and August Pfluger, R-San Angelo, presented the articles of impeachment to the Senate on Tuesday.

When the Senate took up the matter on Wednesday, Schumer proposed a set of trial rules that would allow one hour of debate per article of impeachment. Cruz and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, had lecterns on their desks, preparing to propose resolutions that would dictate how the trial would be run. They could be seen in the chamber deliberating beforehand, preparing to make their cases.

But Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Missouri, objected to Schumer’s proposal, demanding a full trial akin to a criminal court. Schumer’s proposal needed unanimous support to go forward.

Schumer then motioned to have the articles of impeachment deemed unconstitutional, asserting that they do not rise to the standard of high crimes and misdemeanors.

Republicans were incensed.

“The majority leader has argued that Secretary Mayorkas’ defiance of federal immigration law and active aiding and abetting of the worst criminal invasion in our nation’s history does not constitute a high crime or misdemeanor. He has presented no argument on that question,” Cruz said on the Senate floor before motioning to allow debate on the matter.

Senate Republicans introduced a series of procedural motions, including to halt proceedings for a few weeks, in order to delay the votes to dismiss the impeachment.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, also introduced a parliamentary inquiry into whether dismissing an impeachment would set a precedent for future impeachments, including that of a president. It’s a point several Republicans highlighted.

“By voting to dismiss the Articles of Impeachment against Secretary Mayorkas without a trial, Senate Democrats just proved that they do not care about the crisis at the southern border. This violation of the Constitution sets a horrible precedent. Voters will judge those who dismissed it out of hand,” Pfluger said in a statement after the vote.

"Today will go down in history as the day Senate Democrats abandoned their constitutional responsibility, defied centuries of historical precedent, and failed the American people,” McCaul said in a statement.

Before the senators were sworn in, Schumer took to the floor to call the trial the “least legitimate, least substantive, and most politicized impeachment trial in the history of the United States.”

Democrats assert that the administration has done what it could to manage the border given the limited resources at its disposal without further funding from Congress and reforms to the nation’s immigration system. Republicans maintain that the administration’s reversal of policies implemented during former President Donald Trump’s administration led to an increase in crossings.

Only one other cabinet secretary has been impeached in American history: Secretary of War William Belknap in 1876. The House impeached Belknap for wide-reaching corruption to finance a lavish Gilded Age lifestyle. A majority of senators voted to convict Belknap, but not the requisite two thirds.

Through the impeachment effort, Mayorkas has tried not to wade too deeply into the drama.

“As they work on impeachment, I work in advancing the missions of the Department of Homeland Security. That's what I've done throughout this process,” Mayorkas said in an interview with CBS News.

After the Senate adjourned, Cruz remained in the chamber with a small handful of his fellow Republicans and unleashed fury at Democrats for not hearing out their arguments. He noted that President Bill Clinton, who was also impeached under a charge of making false statements, was acquitted only after having a full trial in the Senate.

“What we just witnessed was a travesty. It was a travesty to the United States Constitution and it was a travesty to the American people,” Cruz bellowed. “Not a single Democrat senator decided to come to this floor and listen to one word of evidence.”

Cruz gave a hint of what a full Senate trial would have looked like. He laid into Republican criticisms of the Biden administration’s border policies, including releasing asylum seekers into the country to wait out their cases. He tied the impeachment against Mayorkas to humanitarian crises at the border, including human trafficking and extortion at the hands of criminal cartels.

“The Senate Democrats just told the American people that they don’t give a damn,” Cruz said. “The reason why they don’t want a trial is because they don’t want the American people to hear about this.”

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