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The politics of the swiftly dismissed Mayorkas impeachment trial

In early February, congressional Republicans made a conspicuous choice. They decided to kill a bipartisan Senate deal that included tough border security measures. Instead, they pressed forward with what was essentially a messaging exercise: impeaching Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

The confluence of events was telling. Even by the accounts of several Republicans, their party preferred attacking the Biden administration over the crisis at the border to actually doing something about it.

Two months later, Mayorkas’s impeachment is dead. The Senate dispatched with the trial quickly Wednesday afternoon shortly after finally receiving a pair of articles of impeachment against him from the House.

It was predictable that the Democratic-controlled Senate would do this. But Republicans hope it will, at the very least, make Democrats look bad — as if they aren’t interested in holding accountable a man who Republicans say is responsible for the chaotic border.

And will it make the Democrats look bad?

There is no question the border is a major liability for President Biden. Mayorkas isn’t exactly a sympathetic character, either; a recent poll showed that independents dislike him by a 2-to-1 margin.

But the GOP’s impeachment effort was troubled from the start — in ways that sharply undercut the claim that Democrats are derelict in shrugging off an impeachment trial. Even many Republicans said Mayorkas’s actions weren’t impeachable, and the party wound up lacking complete unity in both chambers in historic ways.

There was, of course, the remarkable initial vote in which the GOP-controlled House somehow failed to impeach Mayorkas. Three House Republicans voted against it, and a Democrat whom the GOP didn’t expect to be present returned to leave the GOP one vote shy. The GOP ultimately succeeded a week later, by one vote.

Fast-forward to Wednesday, and the GOP was again unable to keep its membership united. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) moved to vote on whether the articles against Mayorkas were unconstitutional — basically that they did not meet the Constitution’s standard of high crimes and misdemeanors. On the first article, Mayorkas’s alleged “willful and systemic refusal to comply with the law,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) voted “present.”

It appears to be the first time in modern history that a senator from the impeaching party didn’t vote with the party against dismissing charges. Republican senators were united in opposing such a motion in the 1999 Bill Clinton impeachment — even as 10 later voted to acquit Clinton — and Democratic senators were also united in opposing a motion to dismiss Donald Trump’s post-Jan. 6 impeachment charges three years ago.

Similarly, it’s the first time every senator from the president’s party voted to dismiss the charges. A lone Democrat voted against dismissing Clinton’s charges in 1999, and five Republicans voted against dismissing Trump’s in 2021.

The handful of GOP defections undersell just how much concern there was about what their party was doing. Several GOP senators who voted against dismissing the charges nonetheless had previously labeled the whole thing a waste of time. They said the House hadn’t shown that Mayorkas actually did anything impeachable. They said Mayorkas was basically just carrying out the administration’s policy.

One called it “the worst, dumbest exercise and use of time.” Another said the House GOP was “targeting a member of the administration without doing their homework.” A third said the House had “nothing.”

Those senators can perhaps justify their votes against dismissing the charges by saying the Senate should hold an actual trial if the House impeaches. But it’s also evident that such a trial might well have resulted in a remarkable number of defections on the impeaching party’s side — if the GOP senators stayed true to their past comments about Mayorkas.

Of course, the intricacies of Congress — and whether an alleged offense is technically impeachable or just bad — are generally of little concern to the American people. So Republicans will point to this as evidence that Democrats aren’t taking the border seriously and hope the American people care about it.

What we can say right now is that it’s not clear Americans care or can be made to care that much. That poll mentioned above, from the Economist and YouGov shortly after Mayorkas’s impeachment, showed Americans approved of it 43 percent to 25 percent — a pretty large margin. And, as mentioned, the poll also showed Mayorkas was unpopular.

But it also showed 4 in 10 Americans didn’t even have an opinion of him — reflecting how few people were tuning in to the whole thing. And we don’t have other good polling on this, in large part because it doesn’t seem to have penetrated as a story.

In short, it’s now up to Republicans to get the American people animated about something that even their congressional membership wasn’t terribly animated about.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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