Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas’ staunchest critics have multiple trip wires they believe could force the issue back into the spotlight. | Francis Chung/POLITICO
House Republicans once regarded Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas as their easiest impeachment target. Yet even that seems increasingly out of reach.
Centrist Republicans were never quite sold on impeaching the secretary over problems at the border, nor aligned with their colleagues’ belief that Mayorkas lied to lawmakers at a committee hearing. Now, some of the most vocal Republicans pushing to remove him are acknowledging they’re finding GOP skeptics virtually immovable.
Even Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who thrilled conservatives last year when he opened the door to impeachment proceedings, is signaling he’s still not convinced.
“The only time you use impeachment is if someone has done something that rises to impeachment,” McCarthy told POLITICO, noting that committees are still investigating Mayorkas.
It’s a sign McCarthy hasn’t totally bowed to his conservative wing, even as he’s feeding their hopes of potential impeachment inquiries into Attorney General Merrick Garland and President Joe Biden. But centrists and their allies across the conference, already bearish about Mayorkas efforts, are even less enthusiastic about actually attempting to boot those two from office. They’ve supported investigations but have warned that actually taking those votes without proof of wrongdoing could mean the party loses the House next term.
On paper, there are also plenty of reasons a Mayorkas impeachment could still be in play. Border crossing arrests increased in July, though a DHS spokesperson noted illegal crossings generally remain lower compared to recent months. And a key committee investigating Mayorkas is preparing to roll out its findings this fall, which could fold into any impeachment effort. Behind the scenes, Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) and others have lobbied leadership and their colleagues to move forward for months.
“Some of my colleagues get hung up on high crimes and misdemeanors in a way that they don’t want to take that step with respect to Mayorkas. I disagree,” said Roy, a prominent member of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus.
But other House Republicans acknowledge that, anecdotally, they aren’t hearing as much about the idea of impeaching Mayorkas from their colleagues. And Roy, though he insisted they’ve made progress, admitted the votes just might not exist in the narrow House majority.
“We have what — a majority of three, or four or five depending on the day and people’s health? So, if there’s a handful of people that don’t cross the line, that’s where we are,” he said.
The Republicans who aren’t yet on board include members of the Judiciary Committee itself — a huge stumbling block to even beginning impeachment proceedings. And even some conservatives aren’t backing the efforts.
Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.), a member of the Judiciary Committee and the Freedom Caucus, said that a recent hearing with Mayorkas didn’t sway him toward supporting impeachment. He remains unconvinced that booting Mayorkas is a necessary step, and summed up the impeachment chatter within the conference as a “new shiny object every week.”
“Think about it — you replace Mayorkas with another Biden appointee,” Buck said, adding that impeachment is “a rare occurrence. It’s supposed to be.”
Even if impeachment supporters were able to get articles out of the committee, they face questions about their ability to win the near-unanimous support they’d need from the broader conference.
A GOP lawmaker, who was granted anonymity to speak frankly, said the effort to impeach Mayorkas had died down “some.” The Republican added that while they remained undecided on impeaching Mayorkas, and believe the administration has made bad policy choices on the border, “incompetence isn’t an impeachable offense.”
Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.), who has been perennially skeptical about trying to boot Mayorkas, said he wasn’t hearing much about it from his colleagues. He added that impeaching Mayorkas wouldn’t ultimately change the administration’s border strategy.
“In the end, what are you going to get?” Bacon asked. “You’re going to get Biden’s policies.”
Still, Mayorkas’ staunchest critics have multiple trip wires they believe could force the issue back into the spotlight.
One example is the Sept. 30 deadline to fund the government, which Roy is eyeing as a potential leverage point. He’s vowed to oppose any spending bills that fund the Department of Homeland Security without enacting immigration and border reforms, and he considers impeaching Mayorkas as one of those necessary changes.
“I think the case has been made. And I think we are going to see a pretty big fight play out between now and Sept. 30 about what the next steps are with respect to dealing with the border,” Roy said.
Republicans are also months deep into multiple investigations focused on Mayorkas, the border and the department writ large, which could come to a head in the back half of the year. The party has used a series of Judiciary Committee hearings to try to make their case against Mayorkas, including the secretary’s July appearance before the panel.
House Judiciary Chair Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) — who has said Mayorkas deserves to be impeached — outlined additional data he wanted from the department at the end of the hearing. Another member of the panel, Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), is holding a joint field hearing Tuesday on “Biden’s border crisis.”
But Biggs, who has already introduced impeachment articles against Mayorkas, acknowledged during a tele-townhall last week that the House GOP remains short of the votes it would need to move forward.
Meanwhile, Homeland Security Chair Mark Green (R-Tenn.) is in the middle of a five-phase investigation into the agency, which he estimated would wrap up around the end of September. But Green cautioned they would not make a final decision about any impeachment referrals to the Judiciary Committee until it is completed.
“Clearly it’s not as exciting” as other GOP investigations, Green replied when asked about the conference’s waning Mayorkas focus. “But we ain’t stopping.”