House Republicans’ bid to impeach Alejandro Mayorkas fails in US Senate

<span>Alejandro Mayorkas in Washington DC on 16 April 2024.</span><span>Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock</span>
Alejandro Mayorkas in Washington DC on 16 April 2024.Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock

Senate Democrats on Wednesday dismissed the impeachment case brought by House Republicans against Alejandro Mayorkas, the homeland security secretary, on grounds that the charges failed to meet the bar of “high crimes and misdemeanors” outlined in the constitution as a basis for removing an official from office.

In a pair of party-line votes, Democrats held that two articles alleging Mayorkas willfully refused to enforce the nation’s immigration laws and breached the public trust with his statements to Congress about the high levels of migration at the US southern border with Mexico were unconstitutional. On the first article, Lisa Murkowski, the Republican senator from Alaska, voted “present”.

Related: Far-right US Senate candidate tells crowd to ‘strap on a Glock’ before elections

Democrats then voted 51-49 to adjourn the trial, just one day after House Republicans presented the articles to the Senate. Chuck Schumer, the senate majority leader, moved to dismiss the charges outright, arguing that a cabinet official cannot be removed from office for implementing the policies of the administration he serves.

“It is beneath the dignity of the Senate to entertain this nakedly partisan exercise,” Schumer said in a floor speech opening Wednesday’s session.

Constitutional scholars, including conservative legal experts, have said the Republicans’ impeachment case is deeply flawed and weakens Congress’s most powerful tool for holding despots and delinquents to account. But Republicans pushed ahead, arguing that Mayorkas’s handling of the southern border warranted a historic rebuke.

“This process must not be abused. It must not be short-circuited,” Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, said, imploring Democrats to hold a full trial. “History will not judge this moment well.”

After the Senate convened as a court of impeachment, Schumer offered his plan to hold votes to dismiss the two articles of impeachment after limited debate. Senator Eric Schmitt, a Republican from Missouri, immediately objected to Schumer’s proposal and accused the Democratic leader of “setting our constitution ablaze” by seeking to dispense with the charges against Mayorkas.

The majority leader then called for votes to dismiss the trial, setting off a series of procedural maneuvers by Republicans to delay the proceedings, all of which were rejected 51-49 by the Democratic majority.

Had they moved to a trial, Republicans still would have lacked the support of two-thirds of the Senate, which would have been needed to convict and remove Mayorkas from office.

Mayorkas has denied wrongdoing, defending the work of his agency as it grapples with soaring migration and a refusal by Congress to act.

“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 on Wednesday during an appearance on CBS to discuss a new federal initiative to combat online abuse of children.

Democrats cast the impeachment effort as election-year political theater designed to draw attention to the situation at the border, one of the president’s biggest liabilities. Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, has made immigration the centerpiece of his campaign for the White House.

“The impeachment of Alejandro Mayorkas has nothing to do with high crimes and misdemeanors and everything to do with helping Donald Trump on the campaign trail,” Schumer added on Wednesday.

He charged Republicans instead to join Democrats in passing the bipartisan Senate border bill they derailed at Trump’s behest.

“What Senator Schumer is going to do is fatuous, it is fraudulent and it is an insult to the Senate and a disservice to every American citizen,” said John Kennedy, the Republican senator from Louisiana, at a press conference on Tuesday.

By a single vote, House Republicans impeached Mayorkas in February for his handling of the border. It was the first time in nearly 150 years that a cabinet secretary had been impeached.

But Mike Johnson, the speaker of the House, delayed the transfer of the articles for several weeks, initially to allow the chambers more time to complete work on government funding legislation. Upon returning from a two-week recess, the House speaker again postponed the transfer at the request of Senate Republicans, who requested more time to prepare.

The outright dismissal of the charges, without the opportunity to argue their case, was yet another setback for House Republicans, plagued by internal drama and a vanishingly thin majority.

In a joint statement, House Republican leaders said: “The American people will hold Senate Democrats accountable for this shameful display.”

The White House, meanwhile, applauded Senate Democrats for dispensing with what it called a “baseless” case.

“President Biden and Secretary Mayorkas will continue doing their jobs to keep America safe and pursue actual solutions at the border, and Congressional Republicans should join them, instead of wasting time on baseless political stunts while killing real bipartisan border security reforms,” said Ian Sams, the White House spokesperson.

The proceedings began at 1pm, when Senator Chuck Grassley, Republican of Iowa, administered the oath of office to the Senate president pro tempore Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington. Each senator was sworn in as a juror and signed their name in an oath book.

“Hear ye! Hear ye! Hear ye!” the sergeant-at-arms proclaimed, reminding senators that they were to “keep silent on pain of imprisonment” for the duration of the trial.

Had the Senate moved to an impeachment trial, it would have been the third time in five years. Trump was impeached twice during his presidency, first over his dealings with Ukraine and later over his involvement in the January 6 assault on the US Capitol. He was acquitted both times by Senate Republicans.