House vote to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Mayorkas fails, thwarted by Republican defections

WASHINGTON (AP) -- In a dramatic setback, House Republicans failed to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, forced to shelve a high-profile priority -- for now -- after a few GOP lawmakers refused to go along with the party's plan.

The stunning roll call Tuesday fell just a single vote short of impeaching Mayorkas, stalling the Republicans' drive to punish the Biden administration over its handling of the U.S-Mexico border. With Democrats united against the charges, the Republicans needed almost every vote from their slim majority to approve the articles of impeachment.

A noisy, rowdy scene erupted on the House floor as the vote was tied for several tense minutes, 215-215. Several Republican lawmakers -- led by the impeachment's chief sponsor, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia -- surrounded one of the holdouts, Wisconsin Republican Mike Gallagher, who refused to change his vote.

With the tally stuck, Democrats shouted for the gavel to close out the vote.

"Frustrated," said Rep. Mark Green, R-Tenn., the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, "but we'll see it back again."

House Speaker Mike Johnson's spokesman Raj Shah said they "fully intend" to reconsider the articles of impeachment against Mayorkas "when we have the votes for passage."

But next steps are uncertain. In the end, three Republicans opposed the impeachment, and a fourth Republican switched his vote so the measure could be revisited. The final tally was 214-216.

The outcome was another dismal result for the House Republicans who have repeatedly been unable to use their majority power to accomplish political goals, or even to keep up with the basics of governing.

Johnson, who could afford only a few defections from his ranks, had said earlier he had personally spoken to Gallagher and another GOP holdout, acknowledging the "heavy, heavy" vote as he sought their support.

"It's an extreme measure," said Johnson, R-La. "But extreme times call for extreme measures."

Not since 1876 has a Cabinet secretary faced impeachment charges and it's the first time a sitting secretary is being impeached -- 148 years ago, Secretary of War William Belknap resigned just before the vote.

The impeachment charges against Mayorkas come as border security is fast becoming a top political issue in the 2024 election, a particularly potent line of attack being leveled at President Joe Biden by Republicans, led by the party's front-runner for the presidential nomination, Donald Trump.

Record numbers of people have been arriving at the southern border, many fleeing countries around the world, in what Mayorkas calls an era of global migration. Many migrants are claiming asylum and being conditionally released into the U.S., arriving in cities that are underequipped to provide housing and other aid while they await judicial proceedings which can take years to determine whether they may remain.

The House Democrats united against the two articles of impeachment against Mayorkas, calling the proceedings a sham designed to please Trump, charges that do not rise to the Constitution's bar of treason, bribery or "high crimes and misdemeanors."

"A bunch of garbage," said Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass. He called Mayorkas "a good man, a decent man," who is simply trying to do his job.

Even if Republicans are able to impeach Mayorkas, he is not expected to be convicted in a Senate trial since Republican senators have been cool to the effort. The Senate could simply refer the matter to a committee for its own investigation, delaying immediate action.

"This baseless impeachment should never have moved forward," said Mia Ehrenberg, a spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security.

If House Republicans are "serious about border security, they should abandon these political games," she said.

The impeachment of Mayorkas landed quickly onto the House agenda after Republican efforts to impeach Biden over the business dealings of his son, Hunter Biden, hit a lull, and the investigation into the Biden family dragged.

The Committee on Homeland Security under Chairman Green had been investigating the secretary for much of the past year, including probing the flow of deadly fentanyl into the U.S. But a resolution from Georgia Rep. Greene pushed it to the fore. The panel swiftly held a pair of hearings in January before announcing the two articles of impeachment against Mayorkas.

Unlike other moments in impeachment history, the afternoon's debate played out to an almost empty chamber, without the fervor or solemnity of past proceedings.

Greene, who was named to be one of the impeachment managers if there is a Senate trial, rose to blame Mayorkas for the "invasion" of migrants coming to the U.S.

Republican Rep. Eli Crane of Arizona said Mayorkas had committed a "dereliction of duty."

Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries said the Mayorkas impeachment vote was a stunt designed by Republicans to sow "chaos and confusion" and appease Trump -- rather than to govern.

"No reasonable American can conclude that you're making life better for them by this sham impeachment," Jeffries said.

It was only as the roll call came to a standstill that the chamber burst into an angry, boisterous scene as tempers flared and the vote failed.

The three Republicans opposing impeachment were Gallagher, Rep. Ken Buck of Colorado and Tom McClintock of California. Republican Rep. Blake Moore of Utah was the Republican who switched his vote on procedural grounds.

At one point, Democratic Rep. Al Green of Texas, who had missed votes earlier in the day, arrived from the hospital to cast his vote against the impeachment. Green told NBC News that he had gone to the emergency room and had surgery.

McClintock, in a memo, said the charges "fail to identify an impeachable crime that Mayorkas has committed." He said the articles of impeachment from the committee explain the problems at the border under Biden's watch. But, he said, "they stretch and distort the Constitution."

Tuesday's vote arrived at a politically odd juncture for Mayorkas, who has been negotiating a bipartisan border security package in the Senate, earning high marks from a group of senators involved.

But that legislation, which emerged Sunday as one of the most ambitious immigration overhauls in years, collapsed Tuesday as Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell acknowledged that the deal was dead.. Trump had sharply criticized the bipartisan effort and Speaker Johnson said it was "dead on arrival."

Impeachment, once rare in the U.S., has been used as both a constitutional check on the executive and increasingly as a political weapon.

Experts have argued that Mayorkas has simply been snared in a policy dispute with Republicans who disapprove of the Biden administration's approach to the border situation.

Three former secretaries of the Department of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff, Janet Napolitano and Jeh Johnson, said in a letter Tuesday that impeaching the Cabinet official over policy disputes would "jeopardize our national security."

Trump as president was twice impeached -- first in 2019 on abuse of power over his phone call with the Ukrainian president 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. He was acquitted on both impeachments in the Senate.

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