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House Republicans Impeach Mayorkas for Border Policies

The United States House of Representatives voted narrowly on Tuesday to impeach Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the homeland security secretary, in a precedent-shattering vote that charged him with willfully refusing to enforce border laws and breaching the public trust.

In a 214-to-213 vote, Republicans barreled past the solid opposition of Democrats and reservations in their own ranks to make Mr. Mayorkas the first sitting cabinet secretary in U.S. history to be impeached.

It amounted to a partisan indictment of President Biden’s immigration policies by the G.O.P., which is seeking to use a surge in migration across the U.S. border with Mexico during his tenure as a political weapon against him and Democrats in this year’s elections.

Mr. Biden condemned the House’s vote in a statement on Tuesday night.

“History will not look kindly on House Republicans for their blatant act of unconstitutional partisanship that has targeted an honorable public servant in order to play petty political games,” he said.

The vote came a week after the House rejected the charges against Mr. Mayorkas when Republicans, who control the House by a razor-thin margin, tried and failed to muster a majority to approve them.

It put Mr. Mayorkas in the company of past presidents and administration officials who have been impeached on allegations of personal corruption and other wrongdoing.

But the charges against him broke with history by failing to identify any such offense, instead effectively declaring the policy choices Mr. Mayorkas has carried out a constitutional crime. The approach threatened to lower the bar for impeachments — which already has fallen in recent years — reducing what was once Congress’s most potent tool to remove despots from power to a weapon to be deployed in political fights.

Democrats, former secretaries of homeland security, the country’s largest police union and a chorus of constitutional law experts — including conservatives — have denounced the impeachment as a blatant attempt to resolve a policy dispute with a constitutional punishment. They said Republicans had presented no evidence that Mr. Mayorkas’s conduct rose to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors, the standard for impeachment laid out in the Constitution.

The charges against Mr. Mayorkas are expected to be rejected in the Democratic-led Senate, where conviction would require a two-thirds majority and where even some Republicans have called the effort dead on arrival. The House is expected to deliver the impeachment articles to the Senate in the last week of February, according to the office of Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, and senators would be sworn in as jurors the next day.

“The one and only reason for this impeachment is for Speaker Johnson to further appease Donald Trump,” Mr. Schumer said in a statement, adding that House Republicans “failed to present any evidence of anything resembling an impeachable offense.”

But House Republicans insisted that Mr. Mayorkas had failed to carry out his duties under the Constitution, and they defended the impeachment as necessary.

“Congress has taken decisive action to defend our constitutional order and hold accountable a public official who has violated his oath of office,” Representative Mark E. Green, Republican of Tennessee and the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, which prepared the charges against Mr. Mayorkas, said in a statement. The proceedings, he added, “demonstrated beyond any doubt that Secretary Mayorkas has willfully and systemically refused to comply with the laws of the United States, and breached the public trust.”

Three Republicans — Representatives Ken Buck of Colorado, Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin and Tom McClintock of California — lined up with Democrats against the charges. They warned that impeaching a cabinet secretary for the way he did his job would weaken a weighty constitutional penalty and do nothing to address serious immigration issues.

“We have to stop using these impeachments — if you have policy differences, we have other tools,” Mr. Buck said in an interview following the vote, adding that impeachment had “become a partisan game that, when it comes to constitutional interpretation, really should be above this.”

But unlike last week, when the Republican defections were enough to sink the bill, leaders had just enough members present on Tuesday to eke out approval of the charges — albeit by the narrowest of margins. Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the No. 2 Republican, returned to Washington from a round of treatment for blood cancer, though another pair of Republicans — Representatives Brian Mast and Maria Elvira Salazar of Florida — did not vote. The absences of two Democrats, Representatives Lois Frankel of Florida and Judy Chu of California, allowed Republicans to prevail even so. Had either Democrat voted, the G.O.P. would have failed a second time to impeach Mr. Mayorkas.

In a statement posted to social media, Ms. Chu said she had tested positive for Covid-19, and would have voted against the impeachment. In a video posted to social media, Mr. Mast said he and Ms. Frankel got stuck at the Palm Beach International Airport, waiting for a plane with mechanical issues to be repaired.

In approving the charges, the House also appointed 11 Republicans to serve as impeachment managers, including Mr. Green and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, the right-wing lawmaker who has led the charge against Mr. Mayorkas.

Mr. Green’s panel produced a report in which they said of the Cuban-born secretary that they were “deporting Secretary Mayorkas from his position.”

The first of the two charges approved on Tuesday accuses Mr. Mayorkas of replacing Trump-era policies, such as the program commonly called Remain in Mexico, which required many migrants to wait at the southwestern border for their court dates, with “catch and release” policies that allowed migrants to roam free in the United States. Republicans charge that Mr. Mayorkas ignored multiple mandates of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which states that migrants “shall be detained” pending decisions on asylum and removal orders, and acted beyond his authority to parole migrants into the country.

Democrats have pushed back forcefully, noting that Mr. Mayorkas, like any homeland security secretary, has the right to set policies to manage the waves of migrants arriving at the border. That includes allowing certain migrants into the country temporarily on humanitarian grounds and prioritizing which migrants to detain, particularly when working with limited resources.

The second article accuses Mr. Mayorkas of breaching the public trust by misrepresenting the state of the border and stymieing congressional efforts to investigate him. Republicans base those accusations on an assertion by Mr. Mayorkas in 2022 that his department had “operational control” over the border, which is defined under a 2006 statute as the absence of any unlawful crossings of migrants or drugs. Mr. Mayorkas has said he was referring instead to a less absolute definition used by the Border Patrol.

They also accuse Mr. Mayorkas of having failed to produce documents, including materials he was ordered to give them under subpoena, during an investigation into his border policies and evading their efforts to get him to testify as part of their impeachment proceedings. Administration officials have countered that Mr. Mayorkas has produced tens of thousands of pages of documents in accordance with the panel’s requests. He offered to testify in person, but Republicans on the panel rescinded their invitation for him to appear after the two sides encountered scheduling problems.

A Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman, Mia Ehrenberg, criticized House Republicans on Tuesday night, accusing them of “trampling on the Constitution for political gain rather than working to solve the serious challenges at the border.”

“House Republicans have falsely smeared a dedicated public servant who has spent more than 20 years enforcing our laws and serving our country,” she added. “Secretary Mayorkas and the Department of Homeland Security will continue working every day to keep Americans safe.”

On Tuesday just hours before the vote, the U.S. Border Patrol released new data showing that the number of migrants illegally crossing the United States border with Mexico plummeted by 50 percent in January compared with December. But December was an all-time high, and the numbers have reached record levels during the Biden administration.

The only other cabinet secretary ever to suffer the same fate was William Belknap, the secretary of war under President Ulysses S. Grant. Belknap resigned in 1876 just before the House impeached him for corruption after finding evidence that he was involved in rampant wrongdoing, including accepting kickbacks. The Senate later acquitted him.

Hamed Aleaziz and Kayla Guo contributed reporting.

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