Apr 25, 2022 - Politics & Policy

House Republicans plot to impeach Mayorkas

Illustration of an elephant’s trunk holding a gavel.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Enthusiasm for impeaching top Biden officials has spread from the fringes of the House Republican conference to its mainstream — foreshadowing the intense pressure Kevin McCarthy will face from his colleagues if he's Speaker next year.

Why it matters: For the first year of President Biden's term, it was mostly the hard right of the GOP who entertained impeaching the president and his Cabinet secretaries. But those deliberations are now happening among a much larger group — even with virtually no precedent or legal justification.

Behind the scenes: The largest body of conservative House members — the Republican Study Committee, which represents more than 150 members — is laying the groundwork to push for the impeachment of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

  • Many committee members already want to impeach him, according to a member of the group.
  • A letter 133 members sent Mayorkas on Monday — led by Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), the committee chairman, and Rep. Brian Babin (R-Texas), the Border Security Caucus co-chair — sets the predicate for impeachment even without mentioning the word.

Between the lines: The only reason the RSC hasn't already called for impeachment is because it wanted to build consensus and get sign-off on its strategy from party leaders.

They've favored a more restrained approach to impeachment, according to a source familiar with the group's discussions.

  • House Minority Leader "Kevin [McCarthy] wants to make the case before we go for the jugular," the source told Axios.

The big picture: The hardcore strategy is prevailing.

Among the 133 House Republicans who've signed on so far are McCarthy, House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), the Republican Conference chair.

  • McCarthy stopped short of outright calling to impeach Mayorkas when asked about the possibility during a news conference at the border on Monday.
  • Nonetheless, he said, "if someone is derelict in their job, there is always the option of impeaching somebody. But right now, he's got 30 days."
  • That reference was to the 30 days the committee gave Mayorkas to answer its questions.

The bottom line: Only one Cabinet official has ever been impeached, according to the House historian.

  • Secretary of War William Belknap was impeached by the House, and later acquitted by the Senate, in 1876 for allegedly taking bribes.

Neither that history, nor the spiraling precedent of trying to oust Cabinet members for pursuing a rival administration's policies, is proving to be any deterrent to the House GOP.

  • If the conference emerges with control of the chamber after the midterms, the urge to impeach Biden himself or his top officials could force McCarthy into action quicker than he might ideally like.
  • The impulse would be strong even if the gesture would be futile, given the challenge of getting 67 votes to convict in a Senate still expected to be closely divided regardless of whether the GOP also wins control of it.

The backstory: On Jan. 21, 2021, Biden's first full workday as president, far-right Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) introduced H.R. 57.

  • It called for impeaching Biden for "enabling bribery and other high crimes and misdemeanors" for actions by his son Hunter while Biden was vice president.
  • Nobody co-sponsored her bill, and many of Greene's colleagues privately regarded it as a joke.
  • Things have changed.
  • At least eight House Republicans — including Greene — have since introduced additional articles of impeachment against Biden and his Cabinet officials over everything from border security to Afghanistan to COVID-19 policies.

Be smart: The one that's garnered the most support is a resolution introduced by Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), the former Freedom Caucus chair.

  • He's proposed to impeach Mayorkas over border issues.
  • His measure has 29 co-sponsors.
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