House Republicans voted along party lines after midnight on Wednesday to move toward impeaching the homeland security secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas, for a “willful and systematic” refusal to enforce immigration laws as border security becomes a top 2024 election issue.
In a charge against a cabinet official unseen in nearly 150 years, the homeland security committee debated all day on Tuesday and well into the night before recommending two articles of impeachment against Mayorkas to the full House.
Related: House showdown as Republicans try to escalate border and immigration issues
The committee Republicans voted in favor, while the Democrats unified against, 18-15.
The partisan showdown reflected the Republicans’ efforts to make the Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump’s hardline deportation approach to immigration their own.
That approach was mirrored on a second front on Tuesday, as Republicans also lambasted the border deal recently brokered between the Joe Biden White House and a bipartisan group of senators, Democrats and Republicans alike.
Mayorkas, in a letter sent to the Republican chair of the House committee on homeland security before the hearing began, dismissed the impeachment process against him as “politically motivated”.
“I have been privileged to serve our country for most of my professional life. I have adhered scrupulously and fervently to the oath of office I have taken six times in my public service career,” Mayorkas wrote.
“I assure you that your false accusations do not rattle me and do not divert me from the law enforcement and broader public service mission to which I have devoted most of my career and to which I remain devoted.”
The Republican chair of the committee, Mark Green of Tennessee, criticized Mayorkas’s letter as an inadequate response to concerns about the situation at the US-Mexican border, where arrests for illegal crossings have reached record highs.
“This 11th-hour response demonstrates the lack of seriousness with which Secretary Mayorkas views his responsibilities,” Green said. “We cannot allow this man to remain in office any longer. The time for accountability is now.”
Democrats retorted that Republicans were making a farce out of the impeachment process by rushing to oust a cabinet official without showing any wrongdoing. House Republicans have presented no clear evidence that Mayorkas committed high crimes and misdemeanors, which is the requirement for impeachment. Their resolution accuses the cabinet secretary of refusing to comply with the law and breaching public trust.
“We’re here based on two completely fabricated, unsupported and never-used-before articles of impeachment,” said the Democratic congressman Dan Goldman. “This is completely debasing and demeaning the impeachment clause of the United States constitution, and it is a gross, gross injustice to the credibility of this institution.”
Now that the Republican-controlled committee has advanced the resolution, the House speaker, the Republican Mike Johnson of Louisiana, has indicated that the full chamber will vote on impeaching Mayorkas in the coming days. Even if the resolution passes the House, it will certainly fail in the Senate, where Democrats hold a majority.
To demonstrate his scorn over the proceedings, the ranking Democrat on the committee, Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, introduced several procedural motions to delay the progress of the hearing.
Thompson accused Republicans of attempting to impeach Mayorkas to boost the political prospects of Trump.
“If House Republicans were serious about improving conditions along the border, they would provide the department the funding necessary to do so. They have not,” Thompson said. “They don’t want progress. They don’t want solutions. They want a political issue. And most of all, they want to please their disgraced former president.”
Meanwhile, as the House moves forward with impeaching Mayorkas, Trump has called on Republicans to sink the border deal. Johnson has said that the proposal, a bipartisan arrangement that would grant Joe Biden the authority to shut down the border between ports of entry when attempted crossings increase to a certain level, would be “dead on arrival” in the House.
Johnson is expected to address the House on Wednesday. At a press conference on Tuesday, he dismissed claims that Republicans were doing Trump’s bidding as “absurd” and insisted they were focused on addressing the situation at the border.
“Our duty is to do right by the American people, to protect the people. The first and most important job of the federal government is to protect its citizens. We’re not doing that under President Biden,” Johnson said. “Our majority is small. We only have it in one chamber, but we’re trying to use every ounce of leverage that we have to make sure that this issue is addressed.”
The White House attacked Johnson for flip-flopping, noting that the speaker previously called on members of both parties to “come together and address the broken border”.
“Today, Speaker Johnson claimed he believes action should be taken to secure the border,” said the White House spokesperson Andrew Bates. “That’s exactly what President Biden and Republicans and Democrats in the Senate are doing. Speaker Johnson should join them.”