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Dear Leader

The Republicans Are Performing for an Audience of One

The sham impeachment of Alejandro Mayorkas shows that the GOP now exists solely to please Trump.

Donald Trump blows a kiss
David Becker/Getty Images

Americans are now one month into a presidential election year, and the Republican Party is acting accordingly. GOP officeholders at every level of American governance are turning their energies and official resources toward boosting former President Donald Trump’s bid to retake the White House this November.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott and his fellow Republican governors took the lead last week by performatively declaring their willingness to “defend” the southern border after the Supreme Court sided with the Biden administration is allowing federal authorities to cut down razor wire erected by the state. Now House Republicans are trying to keep the ball rolling this week by moving to impeach Alejandro Mayorkas, the secretary of homeland security, on spurious grounds at best. If they’re successful, they may yet seek even bigger targets for sacrifice on the altar of Trump.

The drive to impeach Mayorkas, though in the works many months, sped up on Sunday when the House Homeland Security Committee released two articles of impeachment. The first, as The New York Times frankly described it in a news report, “essentially brands the Biden administration’s border policies an official crime.” The second unconvincingly accuses of Mayorkas of lying to Congress and obstructing its investigation.

On Tuesday, the committee met to debate the charges. “We’re here today not because we want to be, but because we have exhausted all other options,” committee Chair Mark Green said at Tuesday’s impeachment hearing, in an apparent effort to give the proceedings an air of solemnity. Democrats strongly disagree, to say the least. Representative Dina Titus accused her GOP colleagues at the hearing of “shoveling the same old shit and calling it sugar.”

The committee voted early Wednesday, in an 18–15 party-line vote, to endorse impeachment, setting up a potential vote by the full House as soon as next week. Attention would then turn to the Senate, where the Democratic-controlled chamber could decide not to hold a trial at all.

Mayorkas would be the first Cabinet secretary in 148 years to be impeached by the House. The first and only one so far to be impeached was William Belknap, who served as secretary of war during the Ulysses Grant administration. At the time, U.S. soldiers in military forts on the Western frontier purchased their supplies from local traders who received permission to operate inside the forts. That permission, in Belknap’s time, could only come from the War Department.

In 1876, House investigators found evidence that some traders had given thousands of dollars in kickbacks to Belknap and his wife in exchange for exclusive rights to sell goods at the forts. He resigned on the eve of the House impeachment vote, which outraged members who thought Belknap was trying to evade consequences for his corrupt acts. The House impeached him, and he faced a trial in the Senate, where senators voted that he could be tried despite his resignation but nonetheless acquitted him.

Belknap’s scheme, which he confessed to Grant before resigning, was among the most brazenly corrupt actions ever taken by a Cabinet secretary. The charges against Mayorkas, by comparison, are pitifully weak. Though impeachment is only meant for “high crimes and misdemeanors,” House Republicans have struggled to articulate anything resembling criminal activity with which they can charge Mayorkas.

The resolution introduced to the committee charges Mayorkas with “willful and systemic refusal to comply with the law.” It alleges that the secretary has refused to enforce immigration laws and claims that he has instead “implemented a catch and release scheme” that allows migrants and asylum-seekers to be released from custody pending their deportation hearings.

The resolution frames this policy approach in bombastic terms, insisting that Mayorkas “will remain a threat to national and border security, the safety of the United States people, and the Constitution if allowed to remain in office.” None of what they describe, however, amounts to a high crime or a misdemeanor. What they term as “catch and release” is actually a long-standing immigration enforcement strategy by presidents of both parties, one that recognizes the federal government’s limited resources and its need to prioritize certain deportations over others. Other charges boil down to policy differences between the House GOP and the Biden administration or policy actions that are subject to ongoing litigation.

The other charge, “breach of public trust,” is slightly closer to a legitimate impeachment charge in appearance. House Republicans allege that Mayorkas “knowingly made false statements, and knowingly obstructed lawful oversight of the Department of Homeland Security.”

The “false statements” claims are dubious at best. The resolution states that Mayorkas “knowingly made false statements that apprehended aliens with no legal basis to remain in the United States were being quickly removed”—but what qualifies as “quickly removed” is inherently subjective. Another portion says that he misled Congress by describing the border as “secure,” which is also a matter of interpretation instead of an empirical assessment.

As for obstruction, Mayorkas strenuously disputed it in a six-page letter to the committee. He noted that he has testified before Congress on 27 separate occasions since his confirmation, including seven times before the committee that is impeaching him. He also said that he had offered to testify before the committee as recently as last month, but the committee had not scheduled a time with him for a hearing and eventually opted to impeach him instead.

“You did not respond to my request, changed course, and instead invited me to submit written testimony,” Mayorkas wrote. “Two days later, you issued a statement representing that every member of the Committee’s majority already had rendered their decision.”

So why is Mayorkas being impeached if there’s no justifiable basis for it? Part of it boils down to revenge. The Republican Party has congealed around the Trumpian view that his twin impeachments—one for corruptly trying to pressure Ukraine into smearing Biden during the election and another for inciting an insurrection on January 6—were without any legitimate basis. In the GOP’s nihilistic view, this opens the door for similarly baseless impeachments of Democrats.

Another problem for the GOP is that it seems plainly incapable of governing. Since taking over the House in 2023, House Republicans have not only struggled to pass any meaningful legislation to address their policy priorities, but they have fallen victim to infighting and rancor more often than not. Their internal plots culminated in the downfall of then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy last fall, the first time that the House has ever removed a speaker in the history of the republic.

“They are abusing Congress’ impeachment power to appease their MAGA members, score political points, and deflect Americans’ attention from their do-nothing Congress,” Mississippi Representative Bennie Thompson, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said in a statement this week. “Republicans don’t actually want to work towards bipartisan solutions to fix the border—in fact, they have repeatedly sabotaged the secretary’s efforts to secure the border and denied DHS’ funding requests.”

He’s right: Speaker Mike Johnson, McCarthy’s eventual replacement, shows no great interest in actually addressing the border crisis. He has repeatedly rejected bipartisan negotiations on a border security bill in recent weeks, following the reported lead of Trump, who allegedly doesn’t want to give Biden a “win” on the border ahead of the election. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell used that dictum from the former president to throw cold water on negotiations last week.

House Democrats hammered Johnson and the House GOP for their double-dealing during Tuesday’s hearing. “The reason we are here, as we all know, is because Donald Trump wants to run on immigration for his number-one issue in the November 2024 election,” New York Representative Dan Goldman told his fellow committee members.

Impeaching Mayorkas also allows Johnson to potentially hold onto the speakership just a little longer. The House GOP caucus’s fractures are already resurfacing as the House Oversight Committee’s investigations into Hunter Biden and the president himself are floundering. Targeting the secretary of homeland security might be a way for them to normalize the practice before setting their sights on even more prominent targets.

Whatever the intent, the House GOP has shown it has little interest in actually governing the country. By forgoing any effort to pass border legislation while Biden is in office, they have undercut any claims they could make about their seriousness. And by treating their offices as little more than mere vehicles to advance Trump’s campaign messaging, they have shown that their loyalty is to an insurrectionist ex-president instead of the voters who put them into office in the first place.