Republicans impeach US homeland security chief over border crisis

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Republicans impeached US President Joe Biden’s immigration chief on Tuesday, the culmination of months of attacks on the Democratic administration as they seek to make border security a key issue in November’s election.

Conservatives in the House of Representatives, which is narrowly controlled by Republicans, blame Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas for a surge in illegal entries from Mexico that they have called a “humanitarian catastrophe.”

Lawmakers passed two articles accusing him of ”willful and systemic refusal” to enforce immigration law and “breach of public trust” - making him the first Cabinet secretary to be impeached in nearly 150 years.

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It was Republican leaders’ second swing at Mayorkas after they botched a first impeachment effort last week by wrongly anticipating how many lawmakers would be present on each side and losing by just one vote.

Tuesday’s re-run was just as close, but the return of Republican House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, who had been receiving cancer treatment, swung the chamber the other way in a 214-213 vote.

“Next to a declaration of war, impeachment is arguably the most serious authority given to the House and we have treated this matter accordingly,” said House Speaker Mike Johnson.

“Since this secretary refuses to do the job that the Senate confirmed him to do, the House must act.”

But Biden immediately rebuked Republicans for what he termed a “blatant act of unconstitutional partisanship that has targeted an honorable public servant in order to play petty political games.”

“We will continue pursuing real solutions to the challenges Americans face, and House Republicans have to decide whether to join us to solve the problem or keep playing politics with the border,” he added.

The outcome was unprecedented as the House has only ever impeached one other cabinet official - Secretary of War William Belknap in 1876 - and that was over serious allegations of corruption rather than a straightforward policy disagreement.

Seen as the political equivalent of an indictment, the rebuke is largely symbolic, however, as Mayorkas is certain to be acquitted at his trial in the Democratic-led Senate.

The vote came amid a showdown between the House and the Senate over curbing a surge in illegal immigration, which hit a record 10,000 apprehensions a day at the US-Mexico border in December.

‘Pandora’s box’

House Republicans have been accused of acting in bad faith in the impeachment, especially after coming out against a bipartisan deal hammered out in the upper chamber that would have imposed the toughest asylum and border policies in decades.

“House Republicans will be remembered by history for trampling on the Constitution for political gain rather than working to solve the serious challenges at our border,” said Mia Ehrenberg, a spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Impeachment is meant to be a sanction for treason, bribery and other “high crimes and misdemeanors,” according to the constitution.

Ken Buck, one of three Republicans who voted no in last week’s vote, called the move against Mayorkas a “stunt” while fellow rebel Mike Gallagher said it would “pry open the Pandora’s box of perpetual impeachment.”

Twenty-five legal experts called the push “utterly unjustified” in an open letter and were echoed by constitutional scholars who have spoken in Congress against Donald Trump’s impeachments, including Jonathan Turley and Alan Dershowitz.

House Democrats voted in unison against the impeachment, which was also vehemently opposed by the White House.

Ehrenberg at the DHS accused Republicans of having “falsely smeared a dedicated public servant” without a “shred of evidence.”

The Senate is now compelled to at least open a trial, although it could vote to dismiss the articles, dissolve the trial or refer the articles to a committee.

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