House Republicans will try on Tuesday for a second time to impeach Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the homeland security secretary, on charges of willfully refusing to enforce border laws and breaching the public trust, after their first attempt at the partisan indictment ended in a stunning defeat.
Three Republicans joined all Democrats last week in rejecting the impeachment charges, leaving the G.O.P., which has a tiny margin, just one vote short of a majority in a humiliating spectacle on the House floor.
The decisive moment came when Representative Al Green, Democrat of Texas, who Republicans had counted on missing the vote, arrived in a hospital garb fresh out of abdominal surgery to cast his “no” vote. With Representative Steve Scalise, Republican of Louisiana and the majority leader, absent while he underwent treatment for blood cancer, the G.O.P. was unable to make up the shortfall.
Republicans called Mr. Scalise back to Washington this week, and they were confident on Tuesday that their second attempt would be successful. That would put Mr. Mayorkas in the company of past presidents and administration officials who have been impeached on allegations of personal corruption, election interference and even fomenting an insurrection.
But the charges Republicans have levied have broken with history by failing to identify any such offense, instead effectively declaring the policy choices of the Biden administration that he has carried out a constitutional crime. The approach threatened to lower the bar for impeachments — which already has fallen in recent years — reducing what was once Congress’s most powerful tool to remove despots from power to a weapon to be deployed in political fights.
Democrats, former homeland security secretaries, the country’s largest police union and a chorus of constitutional law experts — including conservatives — have decried the impeachment effort as a blatant attempt to resolve a policy dispute with a constitutional punishment, with no evidence that the secretary’s conduct rose to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors.
Last week, just three House Republicans — Representatives Ken Buck of Colorado, Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin and Tom McClintock of California — agreed, voting with Democrats against the impeachment resolution.
“Creating a new, lower standard for impeachment, one without any clear limiting principle, won’t secure the border or hold Mr. Biden accountable,” Mr. Gallagher said in a statement at the time, adding that an impeachment would “set a dangerous new precedent that will be weaponized against future Republican administrations.”
The Republicans who broke with their party experienced significant political blowback for their insubordination. Over the weekend, Mr. Gallagher, who drew a primary challenger on the heels of his impeachment vote, announced he would not seek re-election.
Though other Republicans had also expressed skepticism about the charges before last week’s vote, party leaders managed to keep them in line. To prevail on Tuesday, they must maintain that support.
The vote to impeach Mr. Mayorkas is taking place amid a wider battle in Congress over how to address border security and national security. Tuesday’s vote will come just hours after the Senate passed a bipartisan national security spending package that would provide $60.1 billion to help Ukraine fight off a Russian invasion, $14.1 billion to help Israel in its war against Hamas and almost $10 billion in humanitarian assistance for civilians in conflict zones, including Palestinians in Gaza.
Mr. Mayorkas had helped senators negotiate a previous version of the legislation that paired foreign aid with a border crackdown, something that Republicans demanded. But Senate Republicans killed that measure last week, under pressure from hard-right Republicans in the House and former President Donald J. Trump, who denounced it as too weak.
Democrats have argued that the effort to impeach Mr. Mayorkas is just another gesture of fealty by congressional Republicans to Mr. Trump, who has made clear that he wants to make cracking down on immigration a centerpiece of his presidential campaign.
“The truth is, the extreme MAGA Republicans running the House of Representatives don’t want solutions, they want a political issue,” Representative Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, the top Democrat on the homeland security panel, said during last week’s floor debate. He accused Republicans of trying “to distort the Constitution and the secretary’s record to cover up their inability and unwillingness to work with Democrats to strengthen border security.”
But Republicans steering the effort were determined to single out Mr. Mayorkas as the prime culprit for the state of the border and the surge of migrants and illicit drugs that have crossed it in the past few years.
“He’s guilty of aiding and abetting the complete invasion of our country by criminals, gang members, terrorists, murderers, rapists and over 10 million people from 160 countries into American communities all across the United States,” Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, the Georgia Republican who led the effort to seek his removal, said during last week’s floor debate.
The charges against Mr. Mayorkas stand no chance of leading to a conviction in the Democratic-led Senate, where it would need two-thirds of votes and even some Republicans have noted that it will be dead on arrival. It was not clear whether leaders there would go through the exercise of holding a full trial or vote to dismiss the charges against Mr. Mayorkas right away.
The House planned to appoint 11 Republicans to argue the case against Mr. Mayorkas as impeachment managers, including Ms. Greene and Representative Mark E. Green, Republican of Tennessee and chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, which prepared the impeachment articles last month. At the time, they also produced a report in which they said of the Cuban-born secretary that they were “deporting Secretary Mayorkas from his position.”
Republicans have been pledging for more than a year to impeach Mr. Mayorkas, but the proceedings were rushed over the course of only a couple of weeks, in what Democrats decried as a slapdash bid to conclude a “sham” impeachment. Republicans have defended the speed of their proceedings, arguing that they spent months examining Mr. Mayorkas’s policies in a prior investigation.
The first of the two charges accuses Mr. Mayorkas of replacing Trump-era policies, such as the program commonly called Remain in Mexico, which required many migrants to wait at the southwestern border for their court dates, with “catch and release” policies that allowed migrants to roam free in the United States. Republicans charge that Mr. Mayorkas ignored multiple mandates of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which states that migrants “shall be detained” pending decisions on asylum and removal orders, and acted beyond his authority to parole migrants into the country.
Democrats have pushed back forcefully, noting that Mr. Mayorkas has the right to set policies to manage the waves of migrants arriving at the border. That includes allowing certain migrants into the country temporarily on humanitarian grounds and prioritizing which migrants to detain, particularly when working with limited resources.
The second article accuses Mr. Mayorkas of breaching the public trust by misrepresenting the state of the border and stymieing congressional efforts to investigate him. Republicans base those accusations on an assertion by Mr. Mayorkas in 2022 that his department had “operational control” over the border, which is defined under a 2006 statute as the absence of any unlawful crossings of migrants or drugs. Mr. Mayorkas has said he was referring instead to a less absolute definition used by the Border Patrol.
They also accuse Mr. Mayorkas of having failed to produce documents, including materials he was ordered to give them under subpoena, during an investigation into his border policies and evading their efforts to get him to testify as part of their impeachment proceedings. Administration officials have countered that Mr. Mayorkas has produced tens of thousands of pages of documents in accordance with the panel’s requests. He offered to testify in person, but Republicans on the panel rescinded their invitation for him to appear after the two sides encountered scheduling problems.
Critics of the case have pointed out that removing the secretary would be unlikely to bring about a change in the Biden administration’s border policies, and would not equip officials with the powers and resources they needed to do a more effective job enforcing immigration laws.
“While House Republicans waste time with political games, Secretary Mayorkas is enforcing our laws and working to keep America safe,” Mia Ehrenberg, a Homeland Security Department spokeswoman, said in a statement. “Members of Congress serious about those efforts should work with the administration by fixing our nation’s broken immigration laws and properly resourcing the department’s vital missions instead of facilitating this farce of an impeachment.”
The only other cabinet secretary to have been impeached was William Belknap, the secretary of war under President Ulysses S. Grant. Belknap resigned in 1876 just before the House impeached for corruption after finding evidence that he was involved in rampant wrongdoing, including accepting kickbacks. The Senate later acquitted him.