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Senate kills the articles of impeachment against Alejandro Mayorkas

By Gregory Krieg, Ted Barrett, Annie Grayer, Clare Foran and Morgan Rimmer, CNN

The Senate made short work of the articles of impeachment against Homeland Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Wednesday, ending the historic trial before it began in earnest as the Democratic majority brushed aside GOP efforts to prolong the dead-end process.

House Republicans voted to impeach Mayorkas on February 13 on their second attempt after failing at first to get the necessary votes. The Biden appointee became the first Cabinet secretary to be impeached in nearly 150 years.

There was less drama in the upper chamber, where the proceedings ended a few hours after they began following votes, mostly along party lines, to declare unconstitutional the two articles of impeachment against Mayorkas – one for “willful and systemic refusal to comply with the law” and another for “breach of public trust.” Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski was the lone Republican holdout, voting present on the first article.

The blink-and-you-missed it Senate trial marked the culmination of a mostly failed political gambit hatched by House Republicans seeking to cast the limelight on the Biden administration’s handling of the southern border ahead of the general election. But the merits of the case they hoped to bring to the Senate were widely seen as lacking substance and, to some, a distraction from other election year messaging. House GOP claims that Mayorkas, the first Latino and immigrant to hold the job, committed high crimes and misdemeanors never passed muster with constitutional experts, who said the evidence against him failed to clear that high bar.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer opened the proceedings by offering a time agreement to Republicans that would have allowed a certain amount of floor debate and votes on trial resolutions and points of order before an eventual vote to dismiss the case.

But Republican Sen. Eric Schmitt of Missouri objected, saying he would not agree to a proposal that would have concluded the matter with the “unprecedented” step of ending an impeachment case without a trial. Many Republicans wanted an agreement because it would have allowed them to make floor speeches targeting Democrats over the process and the situation at the border. Absent that, speeches would only have been allowed to those who got unanimous consent from their colleagues – an unlikely scenario given the political stakes of the moment.

Schumer then made a motion to table, or kill, the first impeachment article because “it does not allege conduct that rises to the level of a high crime or misdemeanor” as required in the Constitution. After several rounds of procedural votes, the Senate passed that motion 51-48 with one voting present, killing the first article of impeachment.

After several more procedural votes, Schumer’s motion to table the second article was also approved, killing the second article of impeachment by a party line vote of 51-49.

The House transmitted the articles of impeachment to the Senate on Tuesday and senators were sworn in as jurors Wednesday. It was highly doubtful that the chamber would vote to convict, which would require a two-thirds majority vote – an exceedingly high bar to clear.

Democrats had slammed the impeachment as a political stunt, saying that Republicans had no valid basis for the move and that policy disagreements were not a justification for the rarely used constitutional impeachment of a Cabinet official.

“We want to address this issue as expeditiously as possible,” Schumer said in floor remarks on Tuesday. “Impeachment should never be used to settle a policy disagreement.”

He added, “Talk about awful precedents. This would set an awful precedent for Congress. Every time there’s a policy agreement in the House, they send it over here and tie the Senate in knots to do an impeachment trial? That’s absurd. That’s an abuse of the process. That is more chaos.”

Many Republicans opposed quick dismissal

A number of congressional Republicans, however, criticized the prospect of a quick dismissal or move to table.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Tuesday that senators had a “rare” and “solemn” responsibility to consider the impeachment articles and said he would oppose any effort to table the articles.

“As befits such a solemn and rare responsibility as convening a court of impeachment, I intend to give these charges my full and undivided attention,” he said.

The Kentucky Republican added, “It would be beneath the Senate’s dignity to shrug off our clear responsibility and fail to give the charges we’ll hear today the thorough consideration they deserve. I will strenuously oppose any effort to table the articles of impeachment and avoid looking the Biden administration’s border crisis squarely in the face.”

Additionally, some hard-right Republican senators were trying to find a way to force a full trial, but their efforts did not get enough traction to pass as procedural vote after procedural vote failed along party lines.

Mayorkas under a microscope

Republicans targeted Mayorkas as soon as they took control of the House, blaming the high number of border crossings on the Homeland Security secretary as the party faced pressure from its base to go after the Biden administration on a key campaign issue.

Mayorkas has pushed back against criticism of his leadership, and DHS has called the impeachment effort against him a baseless political attack.

The White House, for its part, had worked to flip the script, citing Republicans blocking a bipartisan border deal in the Senate as evidence that the party isn’t serious about border security.

White House and Homeland Security officials were in frequent communication over the course of the impeachment inquiry into Mayorkas, gaming out strategy and response as they publicly cast the trial as a political stunt. Since Republicans launched their effort to oust the Homeland Security secretary, Biden administration officials have maintained that Mayorkas planned to stay in the post, dismissing the GOP impeachment inquiry into the DHS chief as “meritless.”

Instead, White House and Homeland Security officials deployed a split-screen strategy, like casting the House majority’s proceedings as a waste of time while Mayorkas worked with senators to strike a border deal.

After months of negotiations, Senate Republicans earlier this year blocked that major bipartisan border deal that would have marked a tough change to immigration law and would have given the president far-reaching powers to restrict illegal migrant crossings at the southern border.

The deal faced a torrent of attacks from former President Donald Trump and top House Republicans.

The Department of Homeland Security and White House praised Senate Democrats for killing the impeachment proceedings.

“Once and for all, the Senate has rightly voted down this baseless impeachment that even conservative legal scholars said was unconstitutional,” said Ian Sams, White House spokesperson for oversight and investigations. “President Biden and Secretary Mayorkas will continue doing their jobs to keep America safe and pursue actual solutions at the border, and Congressional Republicans should join them, instead of wasting time on baseless political stunts while killing real bipartisan border security reforms.”

“As he has done throughout more than 20 years of dedicated public service, Secretary Mayorkas will continue working every day to enforce our laws and protect our country,” added Mia Ehrenberg, a spokesperson for DHS. “It’s time for Congressional Republicans to support the Department’s vital mission instead of wasting time playing political games and standing in the way of commonsense, bipartisan border reforms.”

This story has been updated with additional information.

CNN’s Manu Raju and Priscilla Alvarez contributed to this report.

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