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Senate dismisses Mayorkas impeachment without trial

The Senate voted Wednesday to dismiss two articles of impeachment against Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, shutting down the possibility of a lengthy Senate trial, which Republicans had demanded to bring attention to the Biden administration’s record on immigration and border security.

It marked the first time in 225 years the Senate voted to immediately dismiss impeachment charges approved by the House instead of holding a floor trial or referring the matter to a special committee to review it.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) argued a trial wasn’t necessary because the House had sent over “the least legitimate, least substantive and most politicized impeachment trial ever in the history of the United States.”

“The charges brought against Secretary Mayorkas fail to meet the high standards of high crimes and misdemeanors. To validate this gross abuse by the House would be a grave mistake and could set a dangerous precedent for the future,” he warned.

The Senate voted to dismiss the charges by sustaining two points of order raised by Schumer asserting that they did not rise “to the level of a high crime or misdemeanor” as required by the Constitution.

Schumer moved to quash the charges immediately after first-term Sen. Eric Schmitt (R-Mo.) objected to a unanimous consent request by Schumer to give senators time to debate the trial procedure and to consider resolutions sponsored by Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) to either hold a full trial or send the impeachment to a special committee for thorough review.

Schmitt was protesting Schumer’s plan to eventually move to dismiss the impeachment after defeating the motions to hold a trial or refer it to committee.

Cruz tried to block Schumer’s move to dismiss the charges by offering a motion to send the Senate into a private session to debate the constitutionality of the impeachment, but Democrats voted it down.

Republicans offered several other motions to delay Schumer’s bid to avoid a trial, including motions to adjourn the proceedings to a later date and to table the Democratic leader’s objections. All those efforts failed on party-line votes.

Marking the solemnity of the moment, senators voted while seated at their Senate desks.

Republican senators wanted to delay the vote to dismiss the charges for as long as possible but were restricted by the Senate’s impeachment rules, which limit debate on the floor in the absence of a resolution setting the guidelines for a trial.

Senate President Pro Tempore Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who was presiding over the chamber, had to bang her gavel several times to quiet Republican senators who tried to speak more than a few sentences on the floor.

The floor became slightly rowdy at times, such as when Senate Republican Whip John Thune (S.D.) tried to speak over Murray’s efforts to gavel him to silence, prompting Democratic senators to call out: “No debate.”

There was some uncertainty before the vote whether Schumer would be able to hold all 51 members of the Democratic caucus together as Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) told reporters last week that the charges would need to be reviewed seriously by the Senate if they turned out to be anything more than a political stunt.

Tester, however, appeared unfazed by the political pressure, at one point grabbing a bag of peanut butter M&M’s out of Sen. Cory Booker’s (D-N.J.) desk during a lull in the action.

There was also some doubt about how Independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) would vote, as she stayed quiet about her position in the lead-up to Wednesday. Sinema has worked closely with Senate Republican colleagues on border security, and in a hearing with Mayorkas last year she expressed concern about the dramatic increase in border crossings during the Biden administration.

The only defection came from the Republican side of the aisle when Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) voted “present” on Schumer’s point-of-order objection that the House had failed to allege conduct in its first article of impeachment reaching the constitutional standard of a high crime or misdemeanor. 

She then voted with Republicans to reject Schumer’s similar point of order on the second article accusing Mayorkas of lying to Congress.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) accused Democrats of failing to perform their constitutional duty by shoving the impeachment aside.

“Under the Constitution and the rules of impeachment, it is the job of this body to consider the articles of impeachment brought before us and to render judgment,” he said on the floor. “The question right now should be how best to ensure that the charges on the table receive thorough consideration.”

Senate conservatives led by Lee, the chair of the Republican Steering Committee, accused Democrats of “nuking” more than 200 years of Senate precedent by declining to hold a trial and vowed to retaliate by slowing business to a crawl on the floor.

Lee was incensed that Democrats voted to reject the second article of impeachment accusing Mayorkas of breaching the public trust by making false statements.

He pointed out that making false statements is a violation of 18 U.S.C. Section 1001 and a felony offense.

“If this is not that high crime and misdemeanor, what is,” he demanded.

The Senate concluded the proceedings by voting 51 to 49 to adjourn as a court of impeachment. 

Republicans had accused Democrats of ignoring a huge breakdown in security at the southern border resulting in 7.5 million illegal crossings recorded by Customs and Border Protection.

Republicans have also repeatedly pointed to high-profile crimes allegedly committed by people who had crossed the border illegally, such as the killing of nursing student Laken Riley in Georgia and the shooting death of a 2-year-old in Maryland, to score as many political points as they can ahead of this year’s election.

The House passed the two articles of impeachment by a vote of 214 to 213 on Feb. 13, despite the defection of three Republican lawmakers who voted against it: Reps. Mike Gallagher (Wis.), Ken Buck (Colo.) and Tom McClintock (Calif.).

But the House push to impeach Mayorkas began almost as soon as Republicans overtook the lower chamber, with Rep. Pat Fallon (R-Texas) introducing the first resolution to do so just after the GOP selected a Speaker. Several colleagues followed, but it was repeated efforts by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) to force a vote on the matter that accelerated its consideration in the House.

The first attempt by the House to approve the articles of impeachment failed Feb. 6 by a vote of 214 to 216, an embarrassing temporary setback for Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.).

The House articles embraced an unusual approach to impeachment, accusing Mayorkas of violating immigration laws as well as “breach of public trust” — arguing he had violated his oath of office.

The bulk of the articles lists various immigration statutes Republicans say Mayorkas violated. That includes a law requiring the detention of all migrants entering the country — something no administration has ever done. They also suggest enforcement policies laid out by Mayorkas were illegal, though they were upheld by the Supreme Court. Immigration law experts have also said Mayorkas’s policies are in line with immigration statutes and how they’ve been carried out by prior administrations.

The articles also fault Mayorkas for lifting several Trump administration policies — including one actually lifted by Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Republicans also accused Mayorkas of lying to Congress in saying the border was operationally secure, arguing he did not meet the definition under the Secure Fence Act, which says such a standard is met only when not a single person or good wrongly crosses the border.

Mia Ehrenberg, a spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security, said Wednesday’s decision “proves definitively that there was no evidence or Constitutional grounds to justify impeachment.”

“As he has done throughout more than 20 years of dedicated public service, Secretary Mayorkas will continue working every day to enforce our laws and protect our country. It’s time for Congressional Republicans to support the Department’s vital mission instead of wasting time playing political games and standing in the way of commonsense, bipartisan border reforms.”

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