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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Republicans’ dilemma on Mayorkas impeachment: When to take the loss

Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas accompanies President Joe Biden on a visit to Brownsville, Texas, Feb. 29, 2024. House Republicans rushed to impeach the homeland security secretary but are taking their time delivering the charges to the Senate, where a trial is likely to be over before it begins — or yield a quick acquittal. (Kenny Holston/The New York Times)

By Luke Broadwater

After approving impeachment articles against Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas that are doomed in the Senate, House Republicans are facing a confounding question: How — and when — do you take a political loss in the least embarrassing way?

It has been nearly a month since House Republicans impeached Mayorkas by a single vote, racing ahead with a case that constitutional scholars called groundless before Democrats won a special election in Long Island, New York, and wiped away the majority support needed to approve the charges. But instead of quickly sending the articles over to the Senate to try to force out one of the officials they blame for chaos at America’s southern border, Republicans have sat on them.

There is little mystery about why GOP leaders know their impeachment case will swiftly collapse in the Democratic-controlled Senate, where even Republicans have cast substantial doubt on the exercise.

Leaders are expected to dispense with a trial quickly, either by dismissing the charges immediately or moving to a quick vote in which Republicans have no chance of securing the two-thirds necessary to convict and remove Mayorkas. They are taking their time before suffering that high-profile defeat.

“They know it’s dead on arrival,” said Sen. Joe Manchin, a conservative Democrat from West Virginia. “So they want to play with it like it’s still hanging out there. They’ll use all the leverage they can get out of it, and get all the mileage they can get out of it, because once it gets here, we’ll bring it up and shoot it down and it’s gone.”

Democrats who control the Senate regard the impeachment as a fact-free partisan smear of a Biden administration official. They have made clear that they plan to dismiss the matter quickly rather than waste floor time with it.

Even many Senate Republicans, who consider themselves more serious statesmen than their counterparts in the other chamber, are less than enthusiastic about the strength of the House’s case.

“The idea of impeachment of a Cabinet secretary seems a little peculiar to me, but they did it,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D. “We’re ready to sit as a jury as quickly as possible and get it over with, but if it never comes over, I guess that’s fine by me, too.”

House Republicans plan to push for a full trial, according to a leadership aide, and will use the next few weeks to try to build public pressure to force the Senate to hold one. If they can get floor time for a trial, the thinking goes, they will at least get media coverage of their accusations against the Biden administration’s top immigration official. That could give them a high-profile platform for one of their biggest election-year attacks on the president and Democrats — a clear political boon even if Mayorkas is ultimately acquitted.

The current strategy is to wait until Republicans and Democrats have finished negotiating and passing a series of spending bills, a process expected to last until a March 22 deadline, Republicans say.

“We’ve got to get appropriations done,” Rep. Ben Cline of Virginia, one of the GOP’s impeachment managers, said when asked for the reason for the holdup.

But the delay has also contributed to a widespread sense on Capitol Hill that the charges against Mayorkas lack any genuine sense of urgency and that impeachment has become so devalued now as to be almost irrelevant.

“It hasn’t made any difference. It just hasn’t had an impact,” said Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D. He said his only concern would be “the amount of time” an impeachment trial might take, before ticking off a list of more important priorities, such as a national defense bill and reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration.

“We’ve got probably 20 weeks remaining in this year, but we don’t have last year’s appropriations done,” he said. “We haven’t even started on this year’s appropriations.

“Those are required courses,” he added. “We’re not getting the required courses done.”

Democrats see a pattern in House Republicans rushing to score temporary wins to satisfy their conservative base without thinking through how to achieve any lasting victories.

“I think the dog caught the truck here; they’re stuck and they don’t know how to move forward,” Rep. Glenn Ivey, D-Md., who sits on the Homeland Security Committee, said of House Republicans. “On the one hand, the Senate has told them in no uncertain terms that they recognize it as a political stunt, and they’re just going to throw it out immediately. On the other hand, they can’t sit on it forever because they acted like this was some kind of national emergency. So I don’t know how they get out of this one.”

It is not the first time the House has delayed sending impeachment articles to the Senate. In an attempt to influence the rules of the first trial of President Donald Trump, Speaker Nancy Pelosi waited weeks in early 2020 before sending impeachment articles to the Senate.

At the time, Republicans, including several who are now among the 11 GOP impeachment managers prosecuting Mayorkas, blasted Pelosi for holding back the articles.

“Speaker Pelosi argued that it was urgent to impeach President Trump, but then held the Articles of Impeachment for almost 30 days,” Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., who is one of the current impeachment managers, wrote on Twitter at the time. “Her veracity is highly questionable.”

Rep. Mark Green, R-Tenn., the chair of the Homeland Security Committee leading the impeachment of Mayorkas, also took aim at how she slow-walked the articles.

“Democrats promised us the evidence was ‘overwhelming’ and the case was ‘urgent,’” Green had said. “But the only bipartisan vote was against impeachment, and Democrats sat on the articles for four weeks because they knew they did such a terrible job establishing any evidence of an impeachable offense.”

The delay did not ultimately help Democrats’ case. The result, as was anticipated, was Trump’s acquittal, which he crowed about as an exoneration.

“Now we have that gorgeous word — I never thought it would sound so good,” Trump said at the time. “It’s called ‘total acquittal.’ ”

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