Senate rejects impeachment of Homeland Security Secretary Mayorkas

Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas speaks during a news conference at The National Press Club in Washington, on Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
The GOP-led impeachment of Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas, shown in 2021, was dismissed by the Democratic-led Senate. (Associated Press)
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Senators were sworn in at 1 p.m. Wednesday for their third impeachment trial in four years, this time of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas.

Three hours later, they had voted along party lines to dismiss both counts against Mayorkas.

House Republicans, who say Mayorkas has failed to fulfill his duties in upholding immigration law, pushed for a full Senate trial of the case against him. Senate Democrats called the allegations baseless.

The impeachment of President Biden's top immigration official comes as Republicans make migration across the southern border an election-year issue.

"By doing what we just did, we have in effect ignored the directions of the House, which were to have a trial," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said. "Today is not a proud day in the history of the Senate."

Mayorkas, a Cuban immigrant who grew up in California, is the first U.S. Cabinet official impeached in nearly 150 years.

Wednesday's proceedings also marked the first time the Senate has ever declined to hold a trial after impeachment by the House.

Read more: Impeached Homeland Security secretary navigates working with Republicans who want him out

It has been two months since Mayorkas was narrowly impeached in the House by a single-vote margin, with three Republicans and all Democrats opposed.

As the Senate convened Wednesday, Mayorkas was in New York City, where he held a news conference announcing a public awareness campaign to combat child sexual exploitation and abuse. As the trial got underway, Mayorkas was in transit back to Washington.

“Today’s decision by the Senate to reject House Republicans’ baseless attacks on Secretary Mayorkas proves definitively that there was no evidence or Constitutional grounds to justify impeachment," Department of Homeland Security spokesperson Mia Ehrenberg said in a statement. “It’s time for Congressional Republicans to support the department’s vital mission instead of wasting time playing political games and standing in the way of commonsense, bipartisan border reforms.”

Ian Sams, a White House spokesperson, added that "President Biden and Secretary Mayorkas will continue doing their jobs to keep America safe and pursue actual solutions at the border.”

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) sought to accommodate the wishes of Republican colleagues in agreeing to a period of debate before moving to dismiss the case against Mayorkas.

Engaging in a full trial "would be a grave mistake and could set a dangerous precedent for the future," he said, urging colleagues to save impeachment "for those rare cases we truly need it."

Schumer said the first impeachment article — for "willful and systemic refusal to comply with the law" — does not allege conduct that rises to the level of a high crime or misdemeanor and is therefore unconstitutional.

Republicans began stalling by initiating a series of increasingly far-fetched motions, which failed:

To adjourn the court of impeachment until April 30 at noon.

To adjourn until May 1 at noon.

To adjourn until Nov. 6 at noon — the day after the election.

Democrats pushed ahead and dismissed both impeachment articles on a vote of 51 to 49.

Along with their fellow Democrats, both senators from Mayorkas' home state rejected his impeachment. Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) called Mayorkas an exemplary public servant and said House Republicans failed to provide a shred of evidence that he had committed impeachable offenses.

Sen. Laphonza Butler (D-Calif.) said, "Republicans would rather stand in the way of solving our challenges than do the hard work of leading our nation. ... We don’t resolve policy disagreements by impeachment. We talk with the American people, get in a room, and do the work. The charged crime here is a farcical substitute for doing the hard work.”

Some experts raised concerns that Democrats' decision to dismiss the impeachment before hearing evidence, even if the evidence was weak, further trivialized the process for what's intended as Congress' greatest power to hold officials accountable.

“A refusal to even consider something like this coming out of the House, it will allow Republicans, should Democrats advance a case of impeachment on their watch down the road, to say, 'We’re just not even going to consider it, we’re going to follow the practice of Senate Democrats,'” said William Howell, director of the Center for Effective Government and a politics professor at the University of Chicago.

With the trial over, Howell said Republicans could pursue additional congressional oversight — hearings, investigations, and restrictions on discretionary funding for the Department of Homeland Security.

But Mayorkas’ impeachment, he said, illustrates the current struggle in Congress to determine the purpose of government. The impeachment might have ended with a fizzle, he said, but in the background remain questions about the direction of immigration and administrative policy.

“When Republicans lament what is going on in the administrative state, it almost always is the case that their arguments are about overreach," he said. "There is a certain irony in Republicans coming forward and saying, ‘We’re going to impeach this person … for not doing enough, for not pursuing their legal mission as fully as they ought to.'”

Times staff writer Sarah D. Wire contributed to this report.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.