Alejandro Mayorkas’ nomination to be Homeland Security secretary moved forward Tuesday after a Senate panel vote as a top Democrat rejected Republican calls for another hearing that would delay his confirmation.
President Joe Biden’s nominee was voted out of the Senate Homeland Security Committee with all Democrats voting yes, paving the way for Mayorkas to helm the third-largest federal department. GOP Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah and Rob Portman of Ohio also voted yes.
Meanwhile, Republicans also want a hearing for Mayorkas before the Senate Judiciary Committee, in addition to his hearing before the Homeland Security Committee that was held last week.
Several GOP senators, led by Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, called for the additional hearing, citing Mayorkas’ role overseeing many of the Biden administration’s immigration policies, the lawmakers said in a letter released Tuesday
But Sen. Dick Durbin, who will now chair the Judiciary Committee, threw cold water on the GOP demand.
“I don’t see why that’s necessary,” Durbin said told CNN’s Manu Raju. Durban called the demand “an indication of mindless partisanship that at a security agency like this one if a man with his background is being held, it’s totally political as far as I’m concerned.”
“This is indefensible. We are withholding the leadership of the Department of Homeland Security,” Durbin added.
The department has been without a Senate-confirmed leader since Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was ousted in early 2019. DHS, which was saddled with leadership turmoil for most of the Trump presidency, faces national security concerns, a pandemic and an incoming president prepared to roll out ambitious immigration plans.
Last Tuesday, the Homeland Security Committee held an extensive hearing into Mayorkas’ qualifications to lead the department. During the hearing, Mayorkas reiterated Biden’s commitment to stop further construction of the wall on the southern border of the US and said the dismantling of existing immigration policies created under Trump will take time. He told lawmakers that he does not recommend defunding Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Mayorkas also called the threat of domestic extremism “is one of the greatest challenges the Department of Homeland Security confronts, and it has unique capabilities in confronting that challenge.”
However, Sen. Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican, moved to block Mayorkas’ quick consideration after the hearing due to his border answer, delaying confirmation.
Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, the outgoing Homeland Security Committee chairman, also objected to the confirmation of Mayorkas, citing a controversial inspector general report.
“He violated his own guidelines when he provided preferential intervention for these politically connected individuals for EB-5 visas,” Johnson said last week.
During the Obama administration, the inspector general investigated allegations of improper influence in the EB-5 investor visa process while Mayorkas served as director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services. The inspector general was unable to determine Mayorkas’ motives for his actions and found each of the decisions was “legitimately within his purview.”
Former acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan has urged senators to quickly confirm Mayorkas, citing the Covid-19 pandemic and domestic terrorism, among other concerns, according to a letter obtained by CNN.
“DHS is facing several immediate homeland and national security concerns that require confirmed leadership immediately,” McAleenan wrote in a letter to the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee.