Republicans’ humiliating failed impeachment of Alejandro Mayorkas, explained

Homeland Security Secretary Mayorkas Holds Media Availability In Eagle Pass, Texas
US Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas holds a press conference at a US Border Patrol station on January 08, 2024 in Eagle Pass, Texas.  | John Moore/Getty Images

The GOP tried to use impeachment as a political distraction — and only embarrassed themselves.

In an embarrassing turn of events for House Republicans, their attempt to impeach Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has failed.

By a 214-216 vote, the House rejected Mayorkas’s impeachment Tuesday evening, with four Republicans voting with every Democrat to oppose the effort. It’s a humiliating defeat for the House GOP, which had hoped for a win after several legislative losses — and to use the impeachment as campaign fodder.

The four Republicans who voted against the impeachment were Reps. Tom McClintock (CA), Ken Buck (CO), Mike Gallagher (WI), and Blake Moore (UT).

As DHS secretary, Mayorkas oversees US border enforcement and immigration policies including the asylum process and detention, making him an obvious official Republicans sought to blame for their grievances with an ongoing influx of crossings at the southern border.

The two articles of impeachment Republicans introduced accused Mayorkas of failing to enforce existing immigration laws and obstructing House Republicans’ investigation into DHS policies. Mayorkas and Democrats have long called these accusations baseless and argued they were levied for political purposes. Legal experts have concurred, noting that Republicans provided scant evidence of “high crimes and misdemeanors,” the constitutional threshold that’s historically been used for impeachment.

Ultimately, enough House Republicans agreed with these concerns to kill the impeachment effort for now, leading to a high-profile defeat and another reminder of the divisions that exist in the GOP conference.

There wasn’t much there there

Prior to the House vote, impeaching Mayorkas had been polarizing even among Republicans due to the lack of proof.

“They’re taking a fast track to using impeachment without doing their homework,” Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC), a more moderate lawmaker, previously told The Hill. Buck, one of the GOP holdouts and a Freedom Caucus member, also condemned the dearth of evidence the party offered. “This just isn’t an impeachable offense,” Buck told The Hill.

The first impeachment article accused Mayorkas of not adequately enforcing US border security laws, noting that he has not detained people at the border after they applied for asylum. Typically, people are released as they await a trial, a process that can take months or years. That’s in line with how administrations have long handled this issue — including during parts of Trump’s past administration.

The second article alleged that Mayorkas had not sufficiently complied with the House’s investigation into DHS, though the secretary has said he’s testified seven times in front of lawmakers and responded to countless document requests.

Given how little evidence has been offered, legal experts have said that the House’s case was very thin. “Dislike of a president’s policy is certainly not one of [the grounds for impeachment],” Frank Bowman, a University of Missouri School of Law professor emeritus, previously testified in Congress.

Mayorkas, too, has penned a seven-page letter defending himself and calling the accusations baseless. “You claim that we have failed to enforce our immigration laws,” he writes. “That is false.”

The impeachment was an attempt at a political distraction

Ultimately, the impeachment push was not about the substance of the allegations so much as the political purpose it served for the GOP.

Given the upcoming presidential election, Republicans have been eager to stress the issue of immigration since it’s such a top subject for their base and because they’re historically seen as more trustworthy on this issue than Democrats are. According to polling in Iowa and New Hampshire, immigration was the top issue for about 40 percent of GOP voters in both early states, followed by the economy and jobs.

A September 2023 NBC News poll, and others in the past, also found that more voters of all ideological backgrounds think Republicans would do a better job on border security and immigration.

The GOP is also banking on the subject resonating more this year because of growing global displacement and the increase in migrant crossings the US has experienced at the southern border. In fiscal year 2023, the US had a record-breaking number of apprehensions at the southern border because a growing number of migrants are fleeing conflict and poverty in their home countries.

Furthermore, Republicans — including the governors of Texas and Florida — have sought to draw attention to this surge in migration by busing and flying migrants to Democrat-led cities like New York City and Chicago that have scrambled to provide public services and shelter. Those efforts have increased awareness about this shift in migration in communities outside of the border and led prominent state and local Democrats to call for more federal resources.

“I think that in the past, what happens at the border is very much divorced from the lives of everyday Americans,” says Andrew Arthur, a policy fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies, a conservative think tank. “But as we’ve seen those impacts begin to flow to big cities, be it New York or Chicago or Denver … people are starting to see that this has physical impacts that are being foisted on the cities and states for what is ultimately a federal responsibility.”

On top of keeping the issue of immigration front and center, Republicans have also long sought to weaponize attacks and investigations into the Biden administration as a way to distract from the issues of their own likely presidential candidate.

Per research from political scientists Douglas Kriner and Eric Schickler, this has been helpful in the past, denting presidents’ approval ratings. The researchers found, for example, that if lawmakers spent 20 days per month on investigative hearings, the president’s approval rating would see a commensurate decline of 2.5 percent in that time.

In anticipation of this year’s campaigns, a Mayorkas impeachment was intended to give the GOP fodder for ads and an opportunity to attack the Biden presidency. Instead, it’s become the latest evidence of how much the party has struggled to achieve its stated objectives and overcome its divides.

Update, February 6, 7:40 pm ET: This story was originally published on February 6 and has been updated to include news of the impeachment vote.

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