Crash, Bang, Boom: Mayorkas Impeachment Vote Goes Down in Stunner

February 7, 2024 by Dan McCue
Crash, Bang, Boom: Mayorkas Impeachment Vote Goes Down in Stunner
Rep. Juaquin Castro, D-Texas, assails "sham" proceedings ahead of the ultimately failed impeachment of HHS Secretary Alejandro Nicholas Mayorka. (Screen grab Congress.gov/live)

WASHINGTON — For the second time in two years, House Republicans delivered unto C-SPAN one of the best cliffhangers on television.

After vowing for weeks that they would impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas over his — and the Biden administration’s — handling of the U.S.-Mexico border, the House GOP watched in horror as the high-profile, highly politicized measure went down in defeat shortly before 7 p.m. Tuesday night.

Chaos ensued on the House floor after the vote tied for several minutes at 215-215.

As viewers watched, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green, R-Ga., the principal sponsor of the impeachment measure and Speaker Mike Johnson, led a number of other Republicans in trying to cajole one of their colleagues, Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., to change his vote.

When he refused to budge despite the intense pressure, the vote was gavelled to a close.

In all, three Republicans opposed the impeachment of Mayorkas. They were Gallagher, Rep. Ken Buck of Colorado and Tom McClintock of California. 

Once it was clear none of them would change their votes, Rep. Blake Moore, R-Utah, switched his vote to no so that the measure could be revisited at a later date.

In yet another dramatic turn, Rep. Al Green, D-Texas, who had missed votes earlier in the day because he was in a D.C. hospital having abdominal surgery, arrived on the House floor — in a wheelchair and hospital scrubs — at virtually the last minute to cast his vote against impeachment.

Later, Greene chided House Democrats, saying Al Green’s seemingly miraculous appearance “was a strategy at play tonight.”

“They hid one of their members,” Greene said of the Democrats as she spoke with reporters on the Capitol steps Tuesday night.

“They were waiting until the last minute, watching our votes, trying to throw us off on the numbers that we had versus the numbers they had,” she said.

In the end, the final vote tally was 214-216.

In a post on the social media platform X, Johnson’s spokesman Raj Shah subsequently wrote: “House Republicans fully intend to bring Articles of Impeachment against Secretary Mayorkas back to the floor when we have the votes for passage.”

But what comes next is somewhat uncertain.

House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., has been out while he’s undergoing cancer treatment, and nothing is expected to be done regarding the Mayorkas measure until after Scalise’s anticipated return later this month.

The question is how many days can elapse, under House rules, before a motion to reconsider is null and void.

The charge that Mayorkas has failed to fulfill his duties on border security has become the Republicans’ top political issue of the 2024 election, one they hope is a potent weapon against Democrats as the abortion issue was against the GOP in the midterms.

House Democrats insist the articles of impeachment against the secretary are “a bunch of garbage,” as so eloquently described by Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., to please former President Donald Trump, who wants to use the border as a cornerstone of his campaign against President Joe Biden.

“No reasonable American can conclude that you’re making life better for them by this sham impeachment,” Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries added.

Over at the Department of Homeland Security, a spokeswoman said Tuesday evening, “This baseless impeachment should never have moved forward.”

Even if House Republicans had managed to impeach Mayorkas on Tuesday, he was not expected to be convicted in a Senate trial. Several GOP senators want to avoid the controversy altogether; the chamber most likely would have referred the matter to committee, putting off any action on it indefinitely.

Congress has not attempted to impeach a cabinet secretary since 1876, when it accused President Ulysses S. Grant’s secretary of War William Belknap of engaging in a pattern of corruption to support a lavish lifestyle. Belknap resigned before the matter went to trial in the Senate.

The last person to actually be impeached by Congress was former President Donald Trump, who was impeached twice — first for abuse of power over his July 2019 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky seeking a favor to dig up dirt on then-rival Biden, and later on the charge of inciting the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection at the Capitol. 

Trump was acquitted on both impeachments in the Senate.

But if the debacle over the Mayorkas vote wasn’t enough to make Tuesday a very bad day for House Republicans, it grew worse when the chamber majority immediately lost a vote to suspend House rules and approve $17 billion in aid to Israel.

Because the House Rules Committee has consistently stood by long-standing precedents, Republican leaders have been forced to consider nearly everything they’ve wanted to do this Congress under a suspension of the rules, meaning they consistently needed a two-thirds majority for passage.

Long before the last vote of the night, House Democrats and the White House both informed House Republicans they were opposed to the standalone measure.

Despite this, Johnson went ahead with the vote, knowing it would fail without question.

In related news, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., is planning to bring the negotiated foreign aid package up for a vote on Wednesday, immediately after Republicans block the broader bipartisan border security supplemental, something expected to occur during a key procedural vote Wednesday afternoon.

The foreign aid package includes tens of billions of dollars for Ukraine, Israel and the Indo-Pacific, as well as the FEND Off Fentanyl Act. 

It does not include any provisions or money related to border-security funding.

Schumer is said to have set the stage for the action by filing cloture on a motion to proceed on Monday, rather than bringing up a motion to reconsider the supplemental vote from December that Senate Republicans successfully blocked.

If Senate Republicans don’t block Schumer’s latest gambit, the chamber may delay the start of a scheduled two-week recess — set to begin Thursday afternoon — to work on moving the measure to its final passage.

Dan can be reached at [email protected] and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue

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