The White House plan for the Mayorkas impeachment: Ignore the drama, outsource the fight

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Alejandro Mayorkas may now hold the distinction as the first Cabinet secretary to be impeached since 1876. But in the days since that House vote, the Homeland Security secretary has acted as if nothing ever happened.

That’s by design.

The White House is hoping to demonstrate that it is business as usual at DHS, eager to show that the president’s team is unfazed by the impeachment and to portray Republicans as consumed by partisan vendettas at the cost of tending to the crisis at the southern border.

Since Tuesday’s House vote, Mayorkas has been preparing for his trip to Germany for the Munich Security Conference. He delivered keynote remarks on Friday, and through the weekend, he’ll participate in several panel discussions and hold a series of bilateral meetings on a range of national security issues. On Sunday, he’ll head to Vienna, Austria, to meet with China’s state councilor and minister of public health to discuss the country's work to combat the flow of fentanyl. Mayorkas addressed questions about the successful vote for the first time on Friday in an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, during which he downplayed the effects of impeachment on his job.

“I don’t let it distract me from the work — would I have preferred that correctness had prevailed? Of course,” Mayorkas said. “So, the fact that it did not, does not, slow me down in doing the work that I’m tasked to do by the president of the United States.”

Administration officials aren’t disengaged from the impeachment fight. President Joe Biden slammed the impeachment as “petty partisan games.” And aides are monitoring it closely, often elevating Republicans who have questioned the merits of impeachment.

But the administration is also leaning on allied outside groups to poke holes in the GOP’s case against Mayorkas and echo the message coming from Pennsylvania Avenue. They believe the Mayorkas impeachment — and his public nonchalance about it — will help further the narrative carrying over from the bipartisan Senate border deal battle: that Republicans are not invested in solving the crisis at the border so much as perpetuating it as a political cudgel.

“House Republicans will be remembered by history for trampling on the Constitution for political gain rather than working to solve the serious challenges at our border. While Secretary Mayorkas was helping a group of Republican and Democratic Senators develop bipartisan solutions to strengthen border security and get needed resources for enforcement, House Republicans have wasted months with this baseless, unconstitutional impeachment,” said DHS spokesperson Mia Ehrenberg in response to Tuesday’s impeachment vote.

There are risks to the approach. The White House has been underwater on the issue of immigration and migration virtually since the moment Biden took office. And while no one sees a Senate trial for Mayorkas ending in conviction, it will allow Republicans in that chamber the chance to place a bright spotlight on the inability of the Biden administration to stem the tide of migrants. Mayorkas’ tenure will come under intense scrutiny, in ways it has not to this point.

But Democrats and Biden allies believe the political tide is changing. They view Tom Suozzi’s victory in New York, where the Democrat leaned into immigration and went on offense against Republicans, as further evidence that their new messaging strategy around GOP indifference to the problem is already working. A Mayorkas impeachment, they believe, could be used in the same way.

“Voters are watching as the House GOP chaos conference puts Trump’s political wishes ahead of real solutions to improve border security,” said DNC rapid response director Alex Floyd, noting Dems’ victory in the New York special election. “Trump and his MAGA minions can take a break from their clown show, but they will pay the price this November for putting Trump first and the American people last.”

For a White House that has repeatedly struggled to nail a consistent message on immigration, the administration in recent weeks has delivered forceful attacks against House Republicans. As the venue soon shifts to an impeachment trial, the White House has been largely content to back channel with allied outside groups engaged in the fight.

The Congressional Integrity Project has led the charge externally. The group launched in late 2022 — ahead of Republicans taking over the House — with the goal of combatting the investigative onslaught into the Biden administration. The organization has been tracking the targeting of Mayorkas closely, but as impeachment seemed increasingly likely, it ramped up that element of its operations.

Over the last six weeks, the Congressional Integrity Project has worked closely with advocates in the immigration policy space to defend Mayorkas and to paint the GOP effort as a “shameful” and unfounded partisan act tied to fringe conservatives, such as Georgia Rep. Majorie Taylor Green and Arizona Rep. Andy Biggs.

The groups, including America’s Voice and the American Immigration Lawyers Association, have stayed in touch over a shared chat where they coordinate strategy, said Douglas Rivlin, communications director at America’s Voice. They have pushed various constituencies to speak out against the impeachment effort they’ve sought to frame as “unconstitutional.”

They’ve elevated criticism from Cuban American leaders, as well as former DHS secretaries like Michael Chertoff and conservative legal scholars such as Laurence Tribe and Alan Dershowitz, former President Donald Trump’s impeachment lawyer.

The House Homeland Security Committee, which filed the articles of impeachment against Mayorkas, did not respond to a request for comment. On the day of the vote, Chair Mark Green (R-Tenn.) said Congress took “decisive action to defend our constitution order and hold accountable a public official who has violated his oath of office,” urging the Senate to remove Mayorkas from office.

Among some of the most aggressive counter-attacks amplified by the groups came from Jewish leaders who argued that the impeachment of Mayorkas, who is also Jewish, carries antisemitic undertones. The leaders blasted “extreme” members of the GOP caucus who have used “anti-immigrant, conspiracy-driven” rhetoric, warning that mass shooters in El Paso, Buffalo, Pittsburgh and Poway, California, echoed words such as “replacement” and “invasion.”

Because of the timing of the Republican impeachment — occurring as the border deal collapsed — it was easy for the groups to coalesce around a unified message, Rivlin said, including immigration advocates, who have often clashed with the Biden administration over its border policy.

“There are lots of policies that we don’t like — that Biden and Mayorkas have been engaged in,” Rivlin said. “But at the same time, Republicans were showing so many of their cards that illustrated the points that we’ve been making about them. They’re not interested in making policy. They’re interested in dividing people.”