Shooting blanks: How Republicans misfired when they tried to impeach Mayorkas


“There is nothing more exhilarating than to be shot at with no result.” – Winston Churchill

Late Secretary of War William Belknap can rest easy. He remains the sole U.S. cabinet official ever impeached. 

For now.

The House impeached Belknap in 1876. 

The House failed to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas in 2024.

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For now. 

Belknap’s ignominious status in American history is still in tact because – get this – a lawmaker required emergency surgery. Then when the infirm member unexpectedly surfaced at the Capitol, the House lacked the votes to propel Mayorkas into that elite pantheon occupied only by Belknap.

The Hippocratic Oath may read “do no harm.” But it says nothing about hurting impeachment.

Republicans made impeachment of Mayorkas the touchstone of the 119th Congress. And after much braying about the border, the performance of Mayorkas and a myriad of other grievances, the House GOP stumbled when it really mattered. 

Mayorkas

U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas speaks to the media about an overview of public safety plans for Super Bowl week at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center on February 07, 2024 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Candice Ward/Getty Images)

It failed to impeach Mayorkas.  

The vote was tight. Tighter than a new pair of shoes on a rainy day, as yours truly said live on the air during the vote.

215 yeas. 215 nays.

Three Republicans voted nay: Reps. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) and Ken Buck (R-Colo.). 

But by rule, a tie vote loses in the House. 

Suddenly House Republican Conference Chairman Blake Moore (R-Utah), the fifth highest-ranking GOPer, switched his vote to nay.

Four Republican noes! 

The vote tally flipped to 214 yeas to 216 nays.

The gig was up. The House would not impeach Mayorkas.

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So why would Moore, a senior member of the leadership, change his vote? A change of heart? Was this “Invasion of the Body Snatchers?” Was he turning rogue against his own party?

None of the above. 

Moore’s “nay” vote against impeaching Mayorkas deserves an asterisk compared to the votes of Gallagher, McClintock and Buck. Moore wants to impeach Mayorkas. In fact, Moore’s maneuver preserved the Republican gambit to potentially impeach Mayorkas in the future.

To wit:

House rules enable any member on the PREVAILING side of a roll call vote (in this instance, the NAYS) to “move to reconsider” a vote. In other words, demand a re-vote. 

Moore was a yea – but on the losing side. Gallagher, McClintock and Buck certainly weren’t going to move to order a re-vote. They opposed impeachment. So, someone on the GOP leadership needed to switch their vote to nay to potentially resuscitate the Mayorkas impeachment plan. 

Moore altered his vote to no. Not because he opposes impeaching Mayorkas. But now he was on the “winning” side.” House Republicans could summon the Mayorkas impeachment vote again. In fact, House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) probably would have changed his vote had he been present. But Scalise is out for cancer treatments and has not voted this year. Republicans might have the votes when Scalise returns. Republicans could also have reinforcements if the GOP wins the special election on Long Island next week. Republicans hope GOP nominee Mazi Melesa Pilip defeats former Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-N.Y.) for the vacant seat once held by expelled former Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.). Then Republicans might have the votes to impeach.

Mike Johnson walking with his head held down

(Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

Scalise will be back. But if Suozzi defeats Pilip, it’s possible Republicans may never have the votes to impeach Mayorkas. 

House Republicans badly bungled impeachment. They violated a fundamental tenet of Capitol Hill.

It’s always about the math.  

The House took two roll call votes earlier on Tuesday. A total of 425 members in the 431 member House cast ballots. After the House finished a lengthy debate on impeaching Mayorkas, it was time to hold another vote series. However, Republicans made a decision not to vote on impeachment first. The House instead voted first on the “Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park Commission Extension Act.”

That proved to be a tactical error by the GOP. It created a false sense of security about the Mayorkas vote. 

Republicans wanted the House to vote first on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal bill to get a sense of the universe of members voting. The canal bill would serve as a “test” vote to determine how many Republicans the majority could lose on impeachment.

Wise move. But it backfired. 

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Putting the canal bill first may have sunk impeachment.

Cry me a river. 

The House approved the bill about the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal 427 to 2. So the total number of members voting rose from 425 earlier in the day to a new high-water mark of 429. There were two absences. Scalise and Rep. Al Green (D-Texas) who was out for surgery.

But that’s where the problem came. 

Republicans didn’t count on Green voting. Aides and medical attendants dramatically rolled Green into the Capitol in a wheelchair. He wore a blue hospital gown and tan footies. 

The universe of members casting ballots suddenly swelled to 430 as Green cast his ballot against impeachment. 

A senior House Democratic aide confided to Fox that putting the vote on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal helped the Democrats “hide” Green. That lured Republicans into a state of illusory comfort. They thought they had the votes to impeach, unaware that Democrats were about to thwart them.

Green may have been prone on a hospital gurney earlier in the day. But that didn’t mean he couldn’t put impeachment to bed. 

Reps. Al Green and Hakeem Jefferies

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jefferies, D-New York, defended the surprise participation of Rep. Al Green, D-Texas, who voted Tuesday against an impeachment effort against Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.    (Getty)

“He made it clear to me that it was important for him to be present to cast a vote against this sham impeachment led by (Rep.) Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), targeting a hard-working public servant like Secretary Mayorkas,” said House Minority Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.). 

Jeffries noted that he did not request that Green swoop in to short-circuit the impeachment vote. This was all on Green.

And so Republicans had a choice. Either let the vote fail 215-215. Or safeguard their options for later.

The GOP chose the latter.

Of course, impeachment resolutions are “privileged.” That means any member could just put forth an impeachment plan again and the House would have to take it up. But by maintaining the current articles, the GOP also conserves the current investigation, committee report and other documents. This also gives Republicans more credibility if and when they present their impeachment articles to the Senate during a possible trial.

The House has only defeated articles of impeachment once before. The House only adopted two of the articles of impeachment leveled against former President Clinton in December 1997.

So Republicans may try impeachment again in the future. Maybe Scalise is here. Maybe Pilip wins. But you can never know exactly how many people are going to show up in the House.

You try to get 431 people in the same room at the same time. Members are always away for random reasons. Illness. Family commitments. Funerals. Events in the district. You name it. 

So Republicans took a shot at Mayorkas. And missed.

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For now.

As Churchill said, that must be an exhilarating feeling for Mayorkas. 

Republicans took their shot. And got no result.

Foiled by a man in a hospital gown.



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