In a fit of pique, stung by their inability to take action on the border crisis, House Republicans resorted to their usual go-to moves: distraction and retribution. It is a playbook that has been used before in state government, with a far less satisfying result: frustration.

The impeachment of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas by a single vote was certainly disgraceful, as Republicans presented no credible evidence of any wrongdoing. They simply don’t like the policies of President Joe Biden and needed to change the subject from their own policy failures – including a previous failed attempt to impeach Mayorkas. The bar should be much higher. As Biden rightly noted shortly after the vote last week: “History will not look kindly on House Republicans for their blatant act of unconstitutional partisanship.”

But the impeachment was more than just petty – it was also dangerous and corrosive. When Republicans in Minnesota and Wisconsin took out their frustrations with Democratic governors in recent years, it threatened the states’ ability to attract top candidates to appointed positions. Who is going to take a job if they could be fired simply for following the chief executive’s agenda?

In Minnesota, where only 17 commissioners had been rejected in the previous 85 years, two major commissioners were removed within a month in 2020. Senate Republicans were using the votes to force Governor Tim Walz’s hand on other issues. Unlike with Mayorkas, a vote against the commissioner in question meant she had to vacate the office immediately. The following year, a third commissioner resigned rather than face the prospect of being forced out. Others were threatened, including a well-respected health commissioner during the pandemic.

The result? Disruption and delays in attending to far more important tasks that had a tangible impact on Minnesotans, such as the issuance of pandemic rebate checks.

So commonplace did the practice become that in August 2020 the Republican leader of the House tweeted: “Looks like the Senate is executing a prisoner today.” Eventually some Republicans began to have misgivings about the tactic, which created disruption but ultimately little change. The practice was ended once Democrats regained narrow control of the Senate in 2023 and changed the rules.

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Then there is the case of Wisconsin, where the Republican Senate voted to oust eight appointees of Democratic Governor Tony Evers on a single day in October 2023. (In the preceding 40 years only five had been rejected.) As Evers noted at the time: “This is insanity, and this is an issue of democracy – Republicans have to stop doing this. These Wisconsinites are completely qualified to do the job they’ve been asked to do, and they are volunteering their time, talent, and expertise without pay to serve their neighbors and our state.”

The weaponization of the impeachment process also undermines its power to force accountability and preserve the system of checks and balances. It will become just another political tool. Consider what Republican Representative Mark Green of Tennessee, chair of the Homeland Security committee, said when asked whether he was concerned about who might replace Mayorkas: “Of course I am, but if that person doesn’t do his job well, we will impeach his ass too.”

Of course, the impeachment vote will not remove Mayorkas. That would require the vote of two-thirds of a Senate narrowly controlled by Democrats.

If Mayorkas is smart, he will use his trial to show what the administration has done to improve security on the border, and to highlight the abject failure of Republicans to allocate the funding they know is needed. The opportunity is rare: a high-profile forum to publicize the Republican Party’s repeated failures to address a crisis at a time when that crisis is a top concern for Republican voters.

Democrats need to be as unafraid on the issue of immigration as they are on abortion. Strong and consistent border enforcement; firm but humane treatment of those who cross over; swift and fair handling of court cases; and sustained and focused attention to the causes of illegal migration – all are necessary to resolve the border crisis. Not one of those issues was advanced, much less addressed, by the Republicans’ cowardly decision to impeach Alejandro Mayorkas.


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