One historic vote, one historic failure to vote
Tuesday’s narrow defeat of the motion to impeach Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas was a reminder that there are a few Republican members of the House of Representatives willing to act on principle even if it means being run over by a political tank — and at least one Democrat who climbed out of a hospital bed to answer roll call.
Every vote matters. We say it all the time to encourage Americans to vote at the polls, but it is in Congress, where the number of votes is in the hundreds, not thousands, that the significance of a single vote is the most visible.
This was not a drill, although perhaps Republican leadership should have held one. The scene included MAGA Republican members of Congress screaming at colleagues, ditching the decorum that once characterized even the most contested congressional votes. The impeachment motion stalled at 215-215. It failed by one vote.
The final tally was 216-214, after a member switched his vote on procedural grounds.
The shock for House leadership must have rivaled the Senate moment in 2017 when the late Arizona Sen. John McCain gave the deciding thumbs-down vote on the question of repealing Obamacare.
The move to impeach the Cabinet secretary consisted of two articles. The wording of the resolution, as cited by the Associated Press reported, stated “Alejandro N. Mayorkas willfully and systemically refused to comply with the immigration laws, failed to control the border to the detriment of national security, compromised public safety, and violated the rule of law and separation of powers in the Constitution, to the manifest injury of the people of the United States.”
The Day shares the sharp concerns raised by constitutional scholars, law experts and former secretaries of homeland security about using the historically rare process of impeachment to clothe policy-level disagreements as grave, unconstitutional wrongdoing.
With great irony, the secretary’s escape from near impeachment came on the same day that Senate Republican leaders gave up on the bipartisan immigration bill he had helped negotiate. They caved not directly because of Mayorkas but because the presumed candidate of their party in this presidential year, Donald Trump, ordered them to.
Because of his hypnotic effect on voters whom Republicans expect to need for their own re-election, or simply because they fear Trump’s wrath, his fellow party members did as he said. Never mind that American voters are focused on the problems at the border, that the bill principally satisfied Republican priorities, or that President Biden had said he would sign it. Once Trump got House Speaker Mike Johnson and his party members back on their leashes, the Speaker made the self-fulfilling announcement that the bill would be dead on arrival in the House.
Much was lost this week. The best chance for immigration and border reform in many years was dumped at the behest of the former president. Funding for Ukraine and Israel and humanitarian aid in Gaza went with it. For Secretary Mayorkas, the relief at avoiding impeachment must have been muted by the greater loss for sanity and humanity in an intelligent U.S. border policy. Chaos can now continue, because chaos suits Donald Trump’s purposes.
Tuesday brought one more major development, one that does not suit his purposes at all. A ruling by a three-judge panel in federal appeals court in Washington, D.C. concluded that Trump cannot claim immunity from prosecution for alleged crimes he committed, while president, to reverse results of the 2020 election.
“For the purpose of this criminal case,” the judges wrote, “former President Trump has become citizen Trump, with all of the defenses of any other criminal defendant. But any executive immunity that may have protected him while he served as President no longer protects him against this prosecution.” They left no doubt of their interpretation of the matter. Trump has until Feb. 12 to appeal.
So the nation will continue its trudge toward the 2024 election rematch, with its major concerns for immigration and funding for Ukraine and the Middle East tossed aside and the legal fate of the former president focusing all eyes on the expected involvement of the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Day editorial board meets with political, business and community leaders to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Timothy Dwyer, Executive Editor Izaskun E. Larraneta, Owen Poole, copy editor, and Lisa McGinley, retired deputy managing editor. The board operates independently from The Day newsroom.
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