Every impeachment article filed in the U.S. House of Representatives recites, as it must, the language found in Art. II Sec. 4 of the Constitution, that the target has committed “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” Increasingly, however, the constitutional vehicle by which to begin the process of removing from office not only a president but any “civil Officers of the United States,” has become a tool with which to express congressional displeasure with a president’s policies or now, those of a cabinet official.
On Monday, just days after Speaker Kevin McCarthy assumed his post and swore in 434 Members of the 118th Congress (there being one vacancy), a resolution calling for the impeachment of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas was introduced.
The impeachment resolution, H.Res. 8, has not yet been officially printed, but according to its sponsor, Texas Republican Pat Fallon, it charges that Mayorkas “engaged in a pattern of conduct that is incompatible with his duties,” and undertook “willful actions [to] erode our immigration system, undermine border patrol morale, and imperil American national security.” On top of all that, Mayorkas lied to the Congress by claiming falsely that our border with Mexico is “secure.”
Evidence that Mayorkas has been a disaster at Homeland Security is not hard to come by. Illegal border crossings are at historically high levels, illicit drugs, especially fentanyl, are flooding across our southern border, and morale among border patrol officers is extremely low. By any reasoned definition of the term, the border is not “secure.”
Gross incompetence by a senior government official, including cabinet secretaries, could, in theory and practice, provide grounds for impeachment. However, the line between such gross incompetence that violates federal laws or undermines the very office itself, and disagreement with the policies being implemented (or not) by the official, is a fine but important one.
The historical record for impeaching a cabinet secretary is sparse, with but a single one impeached over the course of our nation’s history; and even then, President Grant’s impeached Secretary of War, William Belknap, was acquitted by the Senate in 1876.
The fact of the matter is, there are a number of tools available to Congress with which to punish or express extreme displeasure with a cabinet secretary, whether through a House Resolution of Censure or lack of confidence, limitations on appropriations for the secretary to draw upon, or other legislative constraints.
More importantly, the House now is in a position to conduct serious oversight of the sprawling department Mayorkas heads.
Responsibility for such hearings, to probe deeply into the dysfunction at the Department and the incompetence of its leadership, falls to the Committee on Homeland Security and the Committee on Oversight and Accountability. Both committees should engage in extensive and coordinated hearings on such matters.
Taking the time and putting in the effort to engage in meaningful oversight hearings, which would bring transparency and a degree of accountability now absent, should be the order of the day for this 118th Congress; more so than rushing to impeachment which is more a political than a substantive remedy.
If the GOP majority in the House is serious in its pledge to hold the Biden administration accountable and to bring transparency to its myriad faults, strong oversight investigations and hearings of key departments such as Homeland Security, will be far more effective than a narrowly focused move to simply go after the person at the head of the department (who the Senate would not remove at any rate).
Moreover, and again, if the new Republican House majority truly is committed to uncovering serious leadership and policy abuses rampant in departments and agencies in this administration – from the FBI to IRS and DHS, and beyond – Speaker McCarthy, should direct that every committee and subcommittee chair employ the extensive investigative, subpoena, and budgetary powers now at the majority’s disposal.
This would mean hauling Mayorkas and other department and agency heads before those committees and subcommittees – repeatedly if necessary – until demanded answers are furnished and the full groundwork laid for structural reforms that will come when, hopefully in 2024, the GOP strengthens its majority in the House, wins a majority in the Senate, and captures the presidency.
Such electoral gains in two years will be far more likely if extensive, substantive oversight is undertaken now, rather than the easier but less consequential path of impeaching Mayorkas or another top Biden administration operative.
Bob Barr represented Georgia’s Seventh District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003. He served as the United States Attorney in Atlanta from 1986 to 1990 and was an official with the CIA in the 1970s. He now practices law in Atlanta, Georgia and serves as head of Liberty Guard.