House Republicans Grill Homeland Security Chief About Border Crisis
WASHINGTON — The Homeland Security secretary, Alejandro N. Mayorkas, faced hostile questions about the southwest border from House Republicans on Tuesday, foreshadowing the kind of grilling he can expect more of from the G.O.P., which has threatened to impeach him should it take control of the House, as it is expected to do.
The hearing before the House Homeland Security Committee, which was meant to address worldwide threats to the United States, included as witnesses Mr. Mayorkas; Christopher A. Wray, the F.B.I. director; and Christine Abizaid, the head of the National Counterterrorism Center. But it was not long before Republicans focused most of their attention on Mr. Mayorkas, with questions about the record-breaking number of illegal crossings at the southwestern border during the Biden administration.
“Have you had discussions with the president or anyone in the Biden administration about stepping down from your current role?” Representative Jake LaTurner, Republican of Kansas, asked Mr. Mayorkas.
The secretary said he had not, to which Mr. LaTurner said, “I hope for the sake of the safety of the American people that that conversation happens very soon.”
One lawmaker, Representative Michael Guest, Republican of Mississippi, praised Mr. Mayorkas for forcing the head of Customs and Border Protection, Chris Magnus, to resign last week. But Mr. Guest added that he hoped more people would be fired.
Understand the Outcomes of the 2022 Midterm Elections
What we know. It seemed as if the conditions were ripe for a red wave in the 2022 midterms, but in the end Republicans generated no more than a red ripple, leading to an improbable, still-undecided election. Here’s what the results tell us so far:
Biden beat the odds. President Biden had the best midterms of any president in 20 years, avoiding the losses his predecessors endured and maintaining the Democrats’ narrow hold on the Senate, which provides him with a critical guardrail against Republicans should they win the House.
G.O.P. faces a reckoning. A thin Republican majority in the House appears likely, but a poor midterms showing has the party wrestling with what went wrong: Was it bad candidates, bad messaging or the electoral anchor that appeared to be dragging the G.O.P. down, Donald J. Trump?
Trump under fire. Mr. Trump has faced unusual public attacks from within the G.O.P. after a string of losses by his handpicked candidates. There are also signs of an effort to inch the party away from the former president ahead of his expected announcement of a third White House bid.
Abortion mattered. In the first major election since the fall of Roe v. Wade, abortion rights broke through, as Democrats seized on the issue to hold off a red wave. In all five states where abortion-related questions were on the ballot, voters chose to protect access or reject further limits on it.
Voters rejected election deniers. Every 2020 election denier who sought to become the top election official in a critical battleground state lost at the polls this year. Voters roundly rejected extreme partisans who promised to restrict voting and overhaul the electoral process.
Moderation won. In battleground states and swing districts, voters shunned extremists from the right and the left. Republicans received an especially sweeping rebuke from Americans who made clear they believe that the G.O.P. has become unacceptably extreme.
Republicans have been criticizing Mr. Mayorkas for the high number of illegal crossings and for taking Border Patrol agents off patrol duty to perform administrative work at government centers — an outcome of an outdated system that is ill-equipped to manage the current migration challenges.
But the tone on Tuesday further solidified the expectation that Mr. Mayorkas would continue to hear the impeachment threats Republicans have been levying for months if they have the majority in the House next year.
The Biden administration has struggled to manage the high volume of migrants, which has at times overwhelmed border officials and drawn criticism from Republicans over the president’s border policy. Mr. Biden came into office off a campaign that condemned the restrictive immigration policies of his predecessor. But the challenge of dealing with the steep increase in illegal crossings dashed early hopes for big changes to the system, and the number of people caught illegally crossing the border daily has remained high over the past year.
On Monday, the Department of Homeland Security released its monthly statistics for October, which show that illegal crossings increased from the month before. In the 2022 fiscal year, border officials made more than 2.3 million apprehensions at the southwestern border, an increase over the previous year. Mr. Mayorkas said that an additional 600,000 people had crossed without detection in the same time period.
Republicans have seized on the narrative of an unsecure border and tied it to Democrats’ policies, although former President Donald J. Trump also faced a surge in illegal crossings while he was in office. In fact, the latest migration trend is part of a global shift, with people fleeing poverty exacerbated by the pandemic, violence and unstable governments.
Representative Clay Higgins, Republican of Louisiana, who has a history of tense exchanges with Mr. Mayorkas, asked a series of questions that appeared to lay the groundwork for a potential buffet of charges against Mr. Mayorkas. Because Democrats will continue to hold the majority in the Senate, it is not likely Mr. Mayorkas would ever be convicted even if a G.O.P.-led House were to impeach him.
Mr. Higgins asked whether the secretary had tried to “suppress exculpatory evidence” regarding Customs and Border Protection employees who have come under public attack by the Biden administration. He also asked Mr. Mayorkas whether he had used his authority to punish homeland security agents identified as conservatives or supporters of Mr. Trump. Republicans have been building a similar argument against the attorney general, whom they have also said they want to impeach.
Mr. Mayorkas attempted to answer Mr. Higgins, but the men mostly talked over each other. The secretary was able to interject a few words, and said he did not know what Mr. Higgins was referring to in some of his questions.
When it comes to bringing impeachment charges, there is no legal standard to be met, said Stephen Griffin, a constitutional law expert at Tulane University’s law school. That means if Republicans win control of the House, they can start the process once the new Congress is in session.
But Representative Kevin McCarthy, who won his party’s nomination for speaker on Tuesday even as it awaits word that it has gained control of the House, has shown some reluctance to use impeachment proceedings for political purposes. Republicans were critical of the two Democrat-led impeachment proceedings against Mr. Trump.
Professor Griffin said that in a clear case of wrongdoing by a cabinet official, “any administration can easily avoid the embarrassment of impeachment simply by getting rid of the official.”
Only one cabinet member has ever been impeached — William Belknap, in 1876. Mr. Belknap was secretary of war in the Grant administration. He was accused of accepting bribes.
Luke Broadwater contributed reporting.