In the run-up to this year’s midterm elections, the question wasn’t whether Republicans would pursue an impeachment crusade in the next Congress, it was how long the GOP’s impeachment list would become.
As of a month ago, the list included President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, Attorney General Merrick Garland, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and FBI Director Chris Wray. But there was a seventh member of the White House Cabinet that Republicans were especially excited about targeting.
GOP lawmakers started “laying the groundwork” for impeaching Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas as far back as April, and in August, Rep. Andy Biggs, the chair of the right-wing House Freedom Caucus, actually introduced an impeachment resolution. (It picked up 32 co-sponsors.)
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy was aware of the chatter, but he wouldn’t endorse the effort. Privately, the would-be House speaker let his members know he had different plans for the next Congress, and publicly, McCarthy said five weeks ago today that no member of the Biden administration deserves to be impeached.
Yesterday, as NBC News reported, the GOP leader said something very different.
Appearing with Republicans in El Paso, Texas, House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy on Tuesday called on Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to resign for failing to secure the southern border. If Mayorkas does not resign, McCarthy warned, House Republicans will investigate him and his department to determine whether to launch impeachment proceedings.
“If Secretary Mayorkas does not resign,” McCarthy told reporters, “House Republicans will investigate every order, every action, and every failure [and] will determine whether we can begin impeachment inquiry.”
And why, pray tell, did the minority leader reject impeachment five weeks ago, only to talk up the idea yesterday? It probably has something to do with the fact that McCarthy is struggling to secure the votes he needs to claim the speaker’s gavel — and he’s looking for new ways to impress his far-right critics.
It’s an ugly combination: A weak leader, feeling desperate, is scrambling to impress reactionary radicals. As we discussed earlier, McCarthy already appears to be cutting some highly unfortunate deals to lock down far-right members’ backing, and it’s hardly a stretch to think his new perspective on impeaching the homeland security secretary is part of this larger dynamic.
As for what to expect in the new year, the House could impeach any administration official with a simple majority, which would send the matter to the Senate. It would require a two-thirds majority in the upper chamber to convict and remove the official from office. (Some prominent Senate Republicans have already told Mayorkas to prepare for the proceedings.)
For those wondering about the historical precedent, only one Cabinet secretary has ever been impeached. In 1876, Secretary of War William Belknap was impeached — after leaving office — over alleged bribes. He was later acquitted by the Senate.