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The Mayorkas Impeachment Trial Was a Joke

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DHS Secretary Mayorkas Testifies Before House Homeland Security Committee

Frivolously impeached and quickly acquitted.
Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

There’s nothing surprising about the disdain with which congressional Republicans hold the Biden administration’s border policies or their determination to talk about them as often and as loudly as possible. But even given the broadest possible definition of “high crimes and misdemeanors,” the obedience shown by Homeland Security secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to the policies Joe Biden has laid out is far from being an impeachable offense. In February, though, the House, on a near-party-line vote, and after one aborted attempt, managed to pass two articles of impeachment pretty clearly aimed at Biden but naming Mayorkas.

This action constitutionally compelled a Senate trial of Mayorkas once the articles were formally presented by House “impeachment managers,” which happened on Tuesday. But as trial proceedings got underway on Wednesday, it was understood from the get-go that Republicans would fall far short of the two-thirds majority required for a Senate conviction.

The title of the first article of impeachment lays out the accusations against Mayorkas: “Willful and Systemic Refusal to Comply With the Law.” What that actually means is that Mayorkas followed the Biden’s administration’s interpretation of immigration laws as upheld by the federal courts.

The second article, entitled “Breach of Public Trust,” basically charges Mayorkas with impudently and defiantly refusing to admit the truth of the first article of impeachment.

Virtually every constitutional expert on record has dismissed this exercise as an expression of policy differences wrapped in an abuse of Congress’s impeachment powers, and thus as unserious. Even the very Trump-friendly Jonathan Turley dissed the House’s action on Fox News, per The Hill:

“The fact is, impeachment is not for being a bad Cabinet member or even a bad person. It is a very narrow standard …”

“I just don’t believe that they have a cognizable basis here for impeachment,” Turley said, noting lawmakers and constitutional experts have long warned about the weaponization of impeachment against government officials for political purposes.

Recognizing that House Republicans were seeking an impeachment trial in order to air their well-rehearsed case against Biden’s border policies, top Senate Democrats made it clear they would give appropriately minimal attention to the constitutionally required trial. Still, the full regalia of a legitimate impeachment effort was on display Wednesday, including the march of the managers from House to Senate to present the articles; the formal swearing-in of senators as jurors; and the grandiloquent cry of the sergeant at arms initiating the historic event:

“Hear ye! Hear ye! Hear ye! All persons are commanded to keep silence, on pain of imprisonment, while the House of Representatives is exhibiting to the Senate of the United States the article of impeachment against Alejandro N. Mayorkas, Secretary of Homeland Security.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer offered Republicans an agreement for a brief debate prior to Democrats’ preordained motion to dismiss the articles of impeachment. But the GOP conference insisted on something it could call an actual trial. Knowing they would lose the key vote to dismiss the articles, Senate Republicans managed to drag out the day’s sterile proceedings with a series of motions to adjourn the trial for this and that period of time in order to keep it from simply dying. My favorite was one from Roger Marshall:

The Senate also voted against another motion to adjourn until November 6. GOP Sen. Roger Marshall argued it would have allowed the American people to have a vote on this issue.

After the motions all went down on party-line votes (with occasional “present” votes from the often-rebellious Republican Lisa Murkowski of Alaska), the articles were duly dismissed with the expected 51 votes; Murkowski again voted “present” on the first article but joined her party on the second. She thus offered a tiny bit of intrigue in what was otherwise a fairly tedious bit of business.

So in the end, Alejandro Mayorkas became the second Cabinet official to be impeached by the House and acquitted by the Senate. The first, Ulysses Grant administration war secretary William Belknap, caught up in a trading-post scandal, avoided conviction in 1876 by resigning his office just as he was impeached. Mayorkas, by contrast, put in a regular day’s work as the Senate dealt with his impeachment, and he probably won’t lose much sleep over it either.

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