For years, Republicans have been battering President Joe Biden over immigration and accusing him of caring about Ukraine’s territorial integrity more than America’s. The strategy has worked.
In a recent ABC News-Washington Post poll, Biden scored a scant 18 percent approval on his handling of immigration—the lowest rating for any president in 20 years of surveying the question.
Senate Republican leaders successfully pressured a politically wounded Biden to accept tough restrictions on border policy in exchange for Ukraine aid. They’ve made the president take the authority to effectively shut down the border when the daily average number of migrant encounters reaches 5,000. (We are currently well over that threshold.) The president could keep the border closed until that number is reduced by 75 percent. NBC News cited sources who said that could “keep the border closed for months.” When Biden used the phrase “shut down the border” this week, his progressive allies were shocked.
But House Speaker Mike Johnson and the Republican conference appear prepared to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
Instead of crowing that Biden is swallowing Republican border policies that stoke anger on the left and depress Democratic general election turnout, House Republicans are not only shunning the nascent Senate deal. They are also speeding towards a brazenly political, legally vacuous impeachment of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.
No doubt saying “yes” to impeachment and “no” to legislative compromise is emotionally satisfying to the GOP’s rabid MAGA base, and putative presidential nominee Donald Trump has insisted that they kill the bill. But this strategy—and I am using the word “strategy” with extreme charity—will expose the Republican concern with the border as political, without any interest in the safety and security of average Americans.
Only one cabinet member has ever been impeached by the House. Secretary of War William Belknap was credibly accused in 1876 of accepting bribes, and the Constitution spells out that “bribery” is one of the impeachable “high crimes and misdemeanors.” (Belknap resigned ahead of impeachment, then was acquitted by the Senate.)
The articles of impeachment against Mayorkas that the whole House will consider do not allege anything like corruption. They turn disagreements over policy decisions into criminal offenses. And they treat subjective assessments offered in congressional testimony, such as declaring “the border is secure,” as grounds for a charge of making false statements to Congress. None of it comes remotely close to meeting the “high crimes and misdemeanors” standard for impeachment specified in the Constitution, which is one of the reasons why Michael Chertoff, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security under George W. Bush and a former federal appeals court judge, has denounced the Mayorkas impeachment.
As an open letter from 25 law professors recently explained: “When the Framers designed the Constitution’s impeachment provisions, they made a conscious choice not to allow impeachment for mere ‘maladministration’ [or for] policy disagreements between the House and the Executive Branch, no matter how intense or high stakes those differences of opinion. Yet that is exactly what House Republicans appear poised to undertake.”
The political argument for impeachment is that the trial—even though Mayorkas won’t be convicted in a Democratic-controlled Senate that requires a two-thirds vote— will be a grand stage, keeping Biden’s border record in the spotlight. Why help Biden tame the border with new bipartisan policies when they can let chaos continue and then blame the White House for it in a days-long Senate trial?
The political problem with that argument is it’s so transparently political. We already have Republicans on record chastising fellow Republicans for trying to tank the Senate compromise. Most unflinching was Senator Mitt Romney, who said on camera (making it usable for TV ads), “I think the border is a very important issue for Donald Trump. And the fact that he would communicate to Republican senators and congresspeople that he doesn’t want us to solve the border problem because he wants to blame Biden for it is really appalling.”
Not only can Democrats accuse Republicans of purposefully preventing policy solutions that could tame the border. They can also accuse Republicans of putting America’s national security at risk by forcing the Homeland Security Secretary—whose job it is to prevent terrorism as well as manage the border—to waste his time and departmental resources responding to bogus charges because Republicans are weaponizing and cheapening impeachment to gain political advantage.
Besides, Democrats can use their Senate control to dismiss the charges without trial or push a trial off until after the election.
Granted, one party’s crass show trial is another party’s civic obligation. When Democrats impeached Donald Trump for the first time, they did so with the hope that revealing the president’s scheme to extort Ukraine’s cooperation in a smear campaign against Biden would turn swing voters against the 45th president. (Although polling throughout the early 2020 trial and immediate aftermath show little movement in Trump’s job approval numbers and trial heat performance against Biden.)
Republicans have already bludgeoned Biden on immigration by prosecuting a unified party message while dividing Democrats—busing migrants to Democratic-run cities and states without prior coordination to provide shelter and work, straining municipal resources. What Republicans have done to date has already taken a big bite of Biden’s poll numbers.
The impeachment strategy will likely flip the political dynamic. Democrats will unite to condemn a brazenly political impeachment, while a few Republicans will break ranks. Already, some Senate Republicans are calling out Trump loyalists for trying to sink the border deal, and in all likelihood, at least a few will vote to acquit Mayorkas should it come to the chamber for trial. (There’s even a chance that two House Republicans will defect a move that would kill impeachment on the House floor now that the GOP majority is down to two votes.)
Of course, accepting a bipartisan border deal risks GOP unity as well because Trump has made it impossible for Republicans to put party considerations before his political interests.
But the presidency is not the only office on the ballot in November. The Republican House majority is hanging by a thread. The Senate map looks better for the GOP. Still, the most vulnerable red-state incumbent Democrats—Montana’s Jon Tester and Ohio’s Sherrod Brown—are eagerly slamming Republicans for holding up the border deal. On Tuesday, Tester said, “They going to impeach him because people are coming across the border? Then pass the goddamn border bill.” Tester and Brown, each finishing their third term in the Senate, may be vulnerable, but they are also wily survivors who know how to run up the middle in their states, which Trump won in 2020 by margins of 16 and 8 points, respectively.
Despite their deft exploitation of the border influx, Republicans now have bad options because Trump has warped the party. Hatred of immigrants and owning the libs have become animating principles of the MAGA GOP, which means sound policies have taken a backseat to demagoguery and bloviating. Republicans may be able to elevate an issue, but they can’t solve one.
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