Homeland Security Secretary Mayorkas Gets Grilled on Capitol Hill

Rep. Hageman had harsh words for Biden’s border chief

  • Published In: Politics
  • Last Updated: Jul 27, 2023

Rep. Harriet Hageman (R-Wyo.) lambasted Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Wednesday, writing that it's time for him to "resign or be removed from his position." (Photo via C-SPAN)

By Jacob Gardenswartz

Special to the Wyoming Truth

WASHINGTON — Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas faced nearly five hours of intense grilling at the Capitol on Wednesday, as Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee — Rep. Harriet Hageman (R-Wyo.) among them — ramp up efforts to launch an impeachment inquiry into his handling of the U.S.-Mexico border.

What was characterized as a routine oversight hearing quickly devolved into the sort of partisan bickering that’s become ever-present in the House of late, as Judiciary Chairman Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) kicked off his remarks lambasting President Joe Biden’s alleged “open border policies” and Mayorkas’ tenure overseeing them.

“I know that today Secretary Mayorkas is going to try to paint a rosy picture of this disastrous mismanagement of our border,” Jordan said. “But the numbers don’t lie.”

Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), the top Democrat on the committee, shot back that Jordan’s comments made clear the hearing “will not be about legitimate congressional oversight and finding out the facts.” Instead, he argued, it served as little more than “political theater” and a “predicate for a completely baseless attempt to impeach Secretary Mayorkas.”

The Secretary’s testimony came at a unique moment for U.S.-Mexico border relations. While border crossings remain high by historical standards, they’re down significantly from earlier in the year. Border agents encountered an average of over 200,000 migrants a month from March to May, according to figures from Customs and Border Protection, compared to about 145,000 last month — something Mayorkas described as the system “working.”

“Our approach to managing the border securely and humanely, even within our fundamentally broken immigration system is working,” he told lawmakers. “Unlawful entries between ports of entry along the southwest border have consistently decreased by more than half compared to the peak before the end of Title 42.”

Fears of a so-called migrant “surge” after COVID-19 era immigration policies were lifted appear to have been misguided. Crossings are down to the point where last month’s data represented the lowest number of border encounters since February of 2021.

Mayorkas defended the Biden administration’s border policies, noting the recent decline in apprehensions as evidence of their efforts “working.” (Photo by Michael Brochstein/Sipa USA via AP Images)

And yet, on Tuesday a federal judge struck down the asylum policy Biden instituted in place of Title 42, a stringent measure which disqualified most would-be asylum seekers from taking refuge in the States without first securing an appointment at an official port of entry or documenting their attempts to take refuge in another country. Migrant advocates have claimed such policies place migrants in “grave danger” and violate asylum laws, though the administration has argued they are a major reason for the decline in crossings in recent months.

In a statement responding to Judge Jon Tigar of the U.S. District Court in Northern California’s ruling, Mayorkas said the administration “strongly disagree[s]” with the decision and would appeal.

He also stressed in his testimony that despite the judge’s order, which won’t take effect for at least two weeks, the border is “not open,” as many Republicans have claimed.

“The border is not open, and to say so is not only false, it is really an insult to the brave women and men of the border patrol who keep us safe,” Nadler echoed.

Hageman alleges ‘targeting’ conservatives

During her questioning of Mayorkas, Hageman focused not on border matters but on allegations that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has pursued an agenda seeking to criminalize conservatism and Christianity.

Hageman’s honed in on a report from a conservative watchdog group exploring a DHS anti-terrorism grant given to the University of Dayton. A footnote in the grant application linked to a conference presentation in which a researcher showed a graphic depicting the “pyramid of far-right radicalization,” seeking to tie regular consumption of right-wing news from outlets like Breitbart and Fox News with insidious ideologies like Nazism.

“Secretary Mayorkas, does the affiliation with conservative or Christian beliefs make someone a terrorist?” Hageman asked.

“Of course not,” Mayorkas responded. He went on to say he rejects the characterization that his agency is targeting people with those beliefs, adding that he “profoundly disagree[s]” with the research presented in the linked footnote.

“I have watched with absolute fascination as you have danced, and dodged and lied — yes lied,” Hageman said in response. “You are the walking, talking epitome of the very tyrant that our forefathers recognized would gravitate towards public service.”

“Thank God we have the First Amendment so we can stop you from what you have been doing,” Hageman concluded.

“Your accusations are false,” Mayorkas countered.

Impeachment fever

That Wednesday’s hearing was scheduled as part of a pretense to pursue impeachment articles against Mayorkas was never in debate. Since January 2023, GOP lawmakers in the House and Senate have filed at least six resolutions to begin that process, though none has taken hold.

Hageman has been forthright in her belief that Mayorkas should be impeached; she signed a resolution to do so in January, and wrote on Twitter Wednesday that it’s “time for [Mayorkas] to resign or be removed from his position.”

Impeaching a cabinet secretary is exceedingly rare. Only one such individual has been impeached in U.S. history: William Belknap, the secretary of war, who was impeached by the House in 1876 and later acquitted by the Senate.

Democrats and the Biden administration more broadly have sought to defend Mayorkas from such charges, arguing an impeachment would be “baseless” and critiquing Republicans for not focusing on finding solutions.

“Republicans have not established any legitimate grounds to impeach Secretary Mayorkas. They have not uncovered evidence of wrongdoing or malfeasance of any kind,” Nadler said. “They have policy disagreements with the secretary. And so do we. But policy disagreements and personal grudges are not a basis for impeachment.”

But the more Democrats push back, the more the administration’s most vocal Republican critics voice their desire to pursue those measures. In recent days, many House GOP leaders up to and including Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) have expressed support for launching an impeachment inquiry not only against Mayorkas but Biden as well.

Hageman counts herself among those supporting such an action, writing Wednesday it’s “incumbent upon the Judiciary Committee to immediately open an impeachment investigation” into the president.

Yet some in the GOP appear weary of such a move. Speaking on CNN Wednesday, Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) accused members of his party of engaging in “impeachment theater” and using a “shiny object” like impeachment to distract from policy disagreements within the conference.

And in the Democratically-controlled Senate, which is sure to acquit Biden of any possible charges, there appears to be even less of an appetite for a Biden impeachment — even from fellow Wyoming delegation members.

“The people in Wyoming certainly don’t want Joe Biden as president. They also don’t want Kamala Harris taking over,” Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) told Politico.

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