The White House is monitoring Mayorkas impeachment — but not actively working the trial

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The Biden administration is heading into this week’s Senate impeachment trial of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas projecting confidence that the Democratic-controlled chamber will quickly dispose of the matter.

Privately, they aren’t scrambling either.

White House officials have not reached out to the few moderate Senate Republicans most likely to side with them in the first impeachment of a Cabinet secretary in nearly 150 years.

“We speak to the administration from time to time. We haven’t spoken on that topic,” said Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) last week.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said her phone also hasn’t rung.

“I don’t think that they would,” she said of a call from the White House. “I think that would actually be weird if they did.”

Republicans see the Mayorkas impeachment as an indictment of Biden’s border policy and a way to highlight a political vulnerability for the administration. The president and his team see it as a distraction, at most.

And the absence of direct outreach to senators such as Romney and Murkowksi — either of whom could provide the added boast of a bipartisan dismissal — underscores their belief that the matter will die quickly in the Senate, and that there will be few if any repercussions for the president. Democrats, for their part, see no reason for the administration to turn the trial into a high-pitched fight.

“The unseriousness of it, the politics of it — it just speaks for itself and you can make it worse by trying to convince them of something that's so obvious,” Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), a member of the House Judiciary Committee who was an impeachment manager during Donald Trump’s second Senate trial.

On Tuesday, the House impeachment managers walked the two articles across the Capitol and Rep. Mark Green (R-Tenn.) read them on the floor of the Senate. Senators are expected to be sworn in as jurors on Wednesday.

By dismissing the Mayorkas impeachment trial as a sideshow, the administration risks letting Republicans slide on their attempt at political theater. The president had spent weeks accusing the GOP of not being serious about the border despite attacking him relentlessly for it — an accusation that grew out of the collapse of a bipartisan border security deal that Biden was prepared to support. The Mayorkas impeachment represented another opportunity to hammer home that point at a time when polls show most voters continue disapproving of Biden’s handling of the border.

But the party is not completely disengaged from the matter. White House lawyers have been coordinating with the Homeland Security Department and Mayorkas’ team on how to handle a possible impeachment since late summer of 2022, before Republicans took control of the House, according to a person familiar with the conversations granted anonymity to describe private talks. Since then, they have coordinated how to respond to the investigation in weekly meetings between DHS and White House legal, legislative and communication aides.

Throughout the impeachment process, DHS has issued numerous memos, statements and context for reporters, and aides plan to deploy the same strategy during proceedings in the Senate. Aides will continue to push back in real-time this week, highlighting the lack of evidence and noting the secretary’s willingness to work across the aisle to reach a compromise on border security.

“Secretary Mayorkas spent months helping a bipartisan group of Senators craft a tough but fair bill that would give DHS the tools necessary to meet today’s border security challenges, but the same House Republicans playing political games with this impeachment chose to block that bipartisan compromise,” DHS spokesperson Mia Ehrenberg said in a statement.

But the decision on how to wrap up the Mayorkas impeachment falls on Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. There is no sign of any significant number of Democrats jumping aboard the House Republican effort to support conviction, which would require 67 votes. The main question is how long it will take.

Democrats have been coy about how they will deal with the articles. Many senators expect Schumer to quickly dispose of them with a procedural motion before House Republicans can present a full case. As of late Tuesday, leaders were haggling over a dealthat would allow a few hours of Senate floor discussion Wednesday.

If needed, Vice President Kamala Harris can be called in to break a tie on a motion related to the proceedings.

In impeaching Mayorkas, House Republicans were hoping to capitalize on public sentiment — found in numerous polls — that the president is responsible for the major flow of migrants to the southern border. They argue Mayorkas violated immigration laws that required him to detain migrants crossing into the country.

The White House has defended Mayorkas throughout the process. When he was impeached, President Joe Biden chastised House Republicans for their “blatant act of unconstitutional partisanship that has targeted an honorable public servant.” And in a recent memo, Ian Sams, White House spokesperson for oversight and investigations, called it “a complete waste of time,” “baseless,” “cynical and outrageous” and “silly” all in the first four paragraphs.

But beyond those statements, the Biden administration has largely leaned on outside groups to poke holes in the GOP’s case. The groups, led by the Congressional Integrity Project, have continued to paint the effort as a “political stunt,” using the House Republicans’ latest delay in sending the articles to emphasize this point.

“After pushing back presenting the articles another week, MAGA House Republicans continue to demonstrate that this is nothing but a political stunt and not a legitimate way to address the problems at the border. If the issue was as urgent as MAGA Republicans claim it is, they would have acted immediately to have their MAGA-favorite impeachment managers move the articles forward,” Kyle Herrig, executive director of the Congressional Integrity Project, said in a memo last week.

But even those groups said they don’t have novel messaging plans around the Senate’s impeachment trial, further underscoring the efforts to downplay the whole ordeal. They plan to re-up memos and talking points they sent before the delay of the Senate trial. Officials said they’ll monitor action on the Hill and release new statements as needed.

“No matter how quickly this dismissal goes, it’s an exoneration” and demonstrates how “political House Republicans have been throughout this whole process,” said Nicole Haley, a spokesperson for the Congressional Integrity Project. Republicans portrayed this as an “urgent” matter, yet delayed the process because they didn’t have any “enthusiasm” or “eagerness” to move forward last week, she added. 

Even without White House outreach, some moderate Senate Republicans have hinted they will consider acquittal. Both Romney and Murkowski said any case to be made against Mayorkas is political, not grounds for impeachment.

“I don’t think the constitutional standard has been met of high crime and misdemeanor,” Romney said. “Mayorkas has followed the policy of the president. And if you don’t like that policy, elect a different president.”

Murkowski said she didn’t see evidence of high crimes, either, and sounds unconvinced she will discover it if she sits through a trial.

“Let’s get this out of the way. We’ve got way too much going. Or we should have too much to do around here,” she said. “We’re going to go through a period of talking and messaging about how awful the president's border policy is — and that’s right — but we don’t necessarily need an impeachment hearing to do that.”

Burgess Everett contributed to this report.