House Republicans have threatened impeachments of many Biden administration officials. But only two processes have been formalized: the ones against President Biden himself and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.
It looks increasingly as though Biden might not be impeached after all. And despite House Speaker Mike Johnson’s (R-La.) assurance that Mayorkas “is going to be impeached,” it would most likely be by the thinnest of margins.
The declaration by Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) Thursday that he’s a “solid” no on impeaching Mayorkas means Republicans won’t be unanimous.
By virtue of the House GOP’s exceedingly slim majority, Buck’s position also puts the spotlight on several other holdouts — some of whom have joined GOP-aligned experts in raising concerns about the grounds for impeaching Mayorkas. Those critics and Buck have said the GOP’s effort doesn’t meet the constitutional threshold for “high crimes and misdemeanors,” because it’s basically about a policy dispute.
A good rule of thumb on these things is that you don’t launch something like an impeachment proceeding unless you know where it’ll end up. But we’re also talking about a House Republican conference that has proven unwieldy. And the Biden impeachment effort — the Republicans’ preferred target — hasn’t exactly gone according to plan.
First, the math. House Republicans have a 219-212 majority, by virtue of Rep. Brian Higgins’s (D-N.Y.) resignation becoming official on Friday. That means, if everyone’s voting, Republicans could withstand three defections and still impeach Mayorkas by one vote.
The most likely candidates to object would seem to be those who declined to impeach Mayorkas in November. Back then, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) attempted a snap impeachment, but eight Republicans joined with Democrats to refer the matter to committee instead.
Buck was one of them. And while some suggested they would ultimately vote to impeach once the process was more robust, others offered comments suggesting they might not be on board.
Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) leads that list. He actually wrote an op-ed at the time labeling Greene’s push an effort to redefine impeachment. He said Mayorkas was guilty of “maladministration, malfeasance and neglect of duties on a truly historic scale. But these are not impeachable offenses.” He called it an “unconstitutional abuse of power.”
McClintock told Axios this week that he was keeping an open mind, but he added that he hadn’t “found any” evidence of high crimes and misdemeanors.
Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), who like Buck is retiring, warned back in November that “impeachment is a hugely significant vote and not one that should be taken lightly. … We should make a strong case that can succeed on its merits, not simply try to score political points.”
Others who haven’t committed one way or another include more-moderate Rep. David Joyce (R-Ohio), who has cautioned the GOP against some of its more aggressive impulses and has said he’s undecided. Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.), one of the few remaining Republicans who voted to impeach Donald Trump after Jan. 6, declined to tell Axios how he would vote.
(Worth noting: Those last two members voted against referring the Mayorkas impeachment to committee in November, but voting no on the referral doesn’t translate directly to supporting his snap impeachment.)
The easy and most likely call for all of these members is to toe the party line. But the vote could put them in a tough spot, for a few reasons.
Mayorkas’s impeachment is undoubtedly doomed in the Democratic-controlled Senate, meaning this effectively amounts to a messaging exercise. Few impeachments have come anywhere close to the two-thirds majority necessary to convict in the Senate, but there was at least some uncertainty with Trump’s second impeachment. And the bang for the buck isn’t there as it is when impeaching a president.
Mayorkas would be only the second cabinet secretary ever impeached — and the first in nearly 150 years. Republicans would be taking that historic step using the barest of majorities and without a united conference. They would also be doing something that some on their side have worried would water down the standard for impeachment.
Republicans are also contending with an emerging narrative that they’re playing politics rather than trying to do something about the border crisis — a narrative furthered by some of their own colleagues.
Perhaps they’ll argue that this would amount to doing something by holding Mayorkas accountable and spotlighting the Biden administration’s failures. But it risks looking like base service more than anything else.