May 26th, 2024

Senate dismisses one of two articles of impeachment against Homeland Security secretary

By Mary Clare Jalonick, The Associated Press on April 17, 2024.

WASHINGTON (AP) – The Senate has voted to dismiss the first of two articles of impeachment against Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, the first step in ending its trial over his handling of the U.S.-Mexico border.

Democrats said the article, which charged Mayorkas with “willful and systemic refusal to comply with the law,” is unconstitutional.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

WASHINGTON (AP) – Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer quickly moved Wednesday to end the impeachment trial of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas over his handling of the U.S.-Mexico border, calling for separate votes to dismiss two articles of impeachment soon after the proceedings began.

If the Senate votes to dismiss the articles, the trial will be over before arguments start. Schumer said the House Republicans’ case fails to meet “the high standard of high crimes and misdemeanors” and could set a dangerous precedent.

“For the sake of the Senate’s integrity and to protect impeachment for those rare cases we truly need it, senators should dismiss today’s charges,” said Schumer, D-N.Y.

The House narrowly voted in February to impeach Mayorkas for his handling of the border, arguing in the two articles that he “willfully and systematically” refused to enforce immigration laws. House impeachment managers delivered the charges to the Senate on Tuesday, standing in the well of the Senate and reading them aloud to a captive audience of senators.

An outright dismissal of House Republicans’ prosecution of Mayorkas, with no chance to argue the case, would be an embarrassing defeat for House Republicans and embattled House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., who made the impeachment a priority. And it is likely to resonate politically for both Republicans and Democrats in a presidential election year when border security has been a top issue.

Republicans argue that President Joe Biden has been weak on the border as arrests for illegal crossings skyrocketed to more than 2 million people during the last two years of his term, though they have fallen from a record-high of 250,000 in December amid heightened enforcement in Mexico. Democrats say that instead of impeaching Mayorkas, Republicans should have accepted a bipartisan Senate compromise aimed at reducing the number of migrants who come into the U.S. illegally.

Once the senators were sworn in on Wednesday, the chamber turned into the court of impeachment, with Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington presiding. Murray is the president pro tempore of the Senate, or the senior-most member of the majority party who sits in for the vice president. Senators approached the front of the Senate in groups of four to sign an oath book that is stored in the National Archives.

Schumer then called for the votes to dismiss the trial after Republicans rejected a proposed agreement for Senate debate time and several votes on GOP objections. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell called for a delay in the proceedings while Republican senators huddled on the floor to discuss how to proceed.

Whatever the next steps, Schumer will be able to dismiss the trial if all Democrats and the Senate’s three independents stay united against it. So far, none of them have signaled that they will vote with Republicans to proceed with a full trial.

As Johnson signed the articles Monday in preparation for sending them across the Capitol, he said Schumer should convene a trial to “hold those who engineered this crisis to full account.”

Schumer “is the only impediment to delivering accountability for the American people,” Johnson said. “Pursuant to the Constitution, the House demands a trial.”

In any case, Republicans would not be able to win the support of the two-thirds of the Senate that is needed to convict and remove Mayorkas from office – Democrats control the Senate, 51-49, and they appear to be united against the impeachment effort. Not one House Democrat supported it, either.

While most Republicans oppose quick dismissal, some have hinted they could vote with Democrats.

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said last week he wasn’t sure what he would do if there were a move to dismiss the trial. “I think it’s virtually certain that there will not be the conviction of someone when the constitutional test has not been met,” he said.

At the same time, Romney said he wants to at least express his view that “Mayorkas has done a terrible job, but he’s following the direction of the president and has not met the constitutional test of a high crime or misdemeanor.”

Mayorkas, who was in New York on Wednesday to launch a campaign for children’s online safety, reiterated that he’s focused on the work of his department. “The Senate is going to do what the Senate considers to be appropriate as that proceeds,” he said. “I am here in New York City on Wednesday morning fighting online sexual exploitation and abuse. I’m focused on our mission.”

The two articles argue that Mayorkas not only refused to enforce existing law but also breached the public trust by lying to Congress and saying the border was secure. The House vote was the first time in nearly 150 years that a Cabinet secretary was impeached.

Since then, Johnson delayed sending the articles to the Senate for weeks while both chambers finished work on government funding legislation and took a two-week recess. Johnson had said he would send them to the Senate last week, but he punted again after Senate Republicans said they wanted more time to prepare.

House impeachment managers previewed some of their arguments at a hearing with Mayorkas on Tuesday morning about President Joe Biden’s budget request for the department.

Tennessee Rep. Mark Green, the chairman of the House Homeland Security panel, told the secretary that he has a duty under the law to control and guard U.S. borders, and “during your three years as secretary, you have failed to fulfill this oath. You have refused to comply with the laws passed by Congress, and you have breached the public trust.”

Mayorkas defended the department’s efforts but said the nation’s immigration system is “fundamentally broken, and only Congress can fix it.”

Other impeachment managers are Michael McCaul of Texas, Andy Biggs of Arizona, Ben Cline of Virginia, Andrew Garbarino of New York, Michael Guest of Mississippi, Harriet Hageman of Wyoming, Clay Higgins of Louisiana, Laurel Lee of Florida, August Plfuger of Texas and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia.

If Democrats are unable to dismiss or table the articles, they could follow the precedent of several impeachment trials for federal judges over the last century and hold a vote to create a trial committee that would investigate the charges. While there is sufficient precedent for this approach, Democrats may prefer to end the process completely, especially in a presidential election year when immigration and border security are top issues.

The impeachment trial is the third in five years. Democrats impeached President Donald Trump twice, once over his dealings with Ukraine and a second time in the days after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. Trump was acquitted by the Senate both times.

At a trial, senators would be forced to sit in their seats for the duration, maybe weeks, while the House impeachment managers and lawyers representing Mayorkas make their cases. The Senate is allowed to call witnesses, as well, if it so decides, and it can ask questions of both sides after the opening arguments are finished.

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Associated Press writers Farnoush Amiri in Washington and Elliot Spagat in San Diego, California contributed to this report.

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