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Senate trial on Mayorkas set to start, but Democrats are likely to dispose of charges

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas is the first Cabinet secretary to be impeached in roughly 150 years. As House Republicans targeted him he was involved in Senate negotiations on a bipartisan bill to change administration border policies.
Go Nakamura
Getty Images
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas is the first Cabinet secretary to be impeached in roughly 150 years. As House Republicans targeted him he was involved in Senate negotiations on a bipartisan bill to change administration border policies.

Updated April 16, 2024 at 7:26 PM ET

Roughly two months after voting to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, House Republicans delivered the charges to the Senate on Tuesday to formally kick off a trial. The Senate is not expected to convict or remove Mayorkas.

Democratic sources had told NPR that they expected Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer would move to dispose of the charges, with either a motion to dismiss or by tabling the charges. But on Tuesday, there was discussion between Democrats and Republicans about carving out time Wednesday for debate on the articles of impeachment.

"Impeachment should never be used to settle a policy disagreement. That would set a horrible precedent for the Congress," Schumer said Monday.

Initially House Speaker Mike Johnson planned to transmit the articles last week, but he postponed the action after a group of Senate Republicans pressed for more time to prepare and make a case for a full debate.

After signing the resolution on Monday, Johnson urged Schumer in a written statement to hold a public trial. "The catastrophe at the southern border is the number one issue for the American people. We must hold those who engineered this crisis to full account," he said.

Schumer said his plans had not changed with the House Republicans' delay. He noted on Monday, "We are ready to go whenever the House sends us the articles. We want to address this issue as expeditiously as possible."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday on the floor that "history and precedent dictate" that the Senate hold a trial.

"It would be beneath the Senate's dignity to shrug off our clear responsibility and fail to give the charges we'll hear today the thorough consideration they deserve," he said.

Republicans in both chambers are eager to put the issue of border security front and center during this election year. President Biden's handling of the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border remains a weak spot politically for him, according to recent public opinion polls. GOP senators and challengers in key swing state contests are eager to force votes on the issue to try to link Democrats with the Biden administration's policies.

Once the resolution is sent to the Senate, no other legislative business can be taken up, unless all 100 senators agree otherwise. The debate comes amid a busy week. Schumer noted that he plans action on legislation to extend a surveillance program, known as Section 702, used to monitor communications abroad from individuals who could pose a national security threat. The program's authority expires on Friday. Congress is also debating additional aid for Israel, following the attack from Iran over the weekend.

How a Senate trial will work

After the 11 House impeachment managers deliver the articles of impeachment to the Senate, they will read the charges against Secretary Mayorkas. The Houseresolution includes two charges — willfully ignoring the law and breaching the public's trust.

The day after the articles are transmitted, all 100 senators are expected to be sworn in as jurors for the trial. Senate President Pro Tempore Patty Murray, D-Wash., will preside.

Johnson appointed the impeachment managers, who will serve as the prosecutors for the trial. Most are on the House Homeland Security Committee, including chairman Mark Green of Tennessee and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, who sponsored the impeachment resolution. Other Republicans on the homeland security panel serving as managers are:

  • Michael Guest of Mississippi
  • Clay Higgins of Louisiana
  • August Pfluger of Texas
  • Andrew Garbarino of New York
  • Laurel Lee of Florida
  • Michael McCaul of Texas

Three impeachment managers are on the House judiciary committee: Andy Biggs of Arizona, Ben Cline of Virginia and Harriet Hageman of Wyoming.

Johnson first notified Schumer in a letter last month he planned to transmit the articles on April 10, and argued the Senate needed to launch a full scale trial. "We call upon you to fulfill your constitutional obligation to hold this trial. The American people demand a secure border, an end to this crisis, and accountability for those responsible," he said.

Greene touted her role in the process on social media and pressed Schumer to hold a trial. Her role as a manager comes at the same time she is threatening to bring up a resolution to oust Speaker Johnson.

The impeachment managers are expected to divide up their case, with those with legal backgrounds covering the charges outlined in the resolution about Mayorkas allegedly failing to enforce immigration laws and others on the team focused on the fallout around the country from the situation at the southwest border.

It could all end quickly

But the managers may never get the chance to formally argue the merits of their case. Senate Democrats are expected to offer a motion to dismiss the charges, which needs a simple majority to be approved. Some Republicans could join Democrats to back this effort. GOP Sen. Mitt Romney told reporters in February he was "inclined" to vote to dismiss the charges. Democratic leaders could also opt to refer the charges to a Senate subcommittee to examine, which would effectively kill the effort to remove Mayorkas.

Johnson's letter had a prebuttal to this move. The speaker said, "To table articles of impeachment without ever hearing a single argument or reviewing a piece of evidence would be a violation of our constitutional order and an affront to the American people whom we all serve."

A group of 43 Republicans sent a letter to Schumer last week pressing for a trial.

"Our constitutional duty requires the Senate to hold a trial. In every previous congressional impeachment of the past 227 years, Congress has been faithful to the process set out by the framers," the senators wrote. They added, "Never before has the Senate abandoned this duty, even when certain members believed the basis for impeachment was tenuous at best."

Some Senate Republicans are on the record saying they aren't sure there is a case for impeachment. A handful point out that while they don't think Mayorkas is doing a good job, Biden is ultimately responsible for setting the administration's policies, and ousting his Cabinet member won't change the policies. But some of these lawmakers have signaled they will vote against any motion to dismiss the charges because they believe the Senate should hear the evidence regardless.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Deirdre Walsh is the congress editor for NPR's Washington Desk.