Senate committee advances Biden's DHS pick despite Republican pushback

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee advanced President Joe Biden’s pick to lead the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) despite a push by Republicans to stall the nomination.

The committee voted 7-4 to advance Alejandro MayorkasAlejandro MayorkasCBP releases new guidelines for pregnant, infant detainees The massive messaging miscues of all the president's men (and women) Buttigieg has high name recognition, favorability rating in Biden Cabinet: survey MOREthe former deputy secretary of DHS under the Obama administration.

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynMental health: The power of connecting requires the power of investing Senators call for Smithsonian Latino, women's museums to be built on National Mall Cornyn says he 'would be surprised' if GOP tries to unseat Sinema in 2024 MORE (R-Texas) and others have asked for a second hearing so that the Judiciary Committee can also weigh in. Mayorkas is also facing a hold from Sen. Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyGOP holds on Biden nominees set back gains for women in top positions Graham emerges as go-to ally for Biden's judicial picks The GOP's post-1/6 playbook is clear — and it's dangerous MORE (R-Mo.).

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The delays come as Democrats argue it’s critical to confirm Mayorkas with the country facing homeland security threats including a rise in extremism, the massive SolarWinds cyber attack and a pandemic.

“Given the importance of Homeland Security and keeping Americans safe, we need to expedite these as much as possible. And in fact, every day that this confirmation process is delayed places the American people international security risk from threats posed by domestic terrorism from cyber attacks and the ongoing pandemic and so much more,” said Sen. Gary PetersGary PetersFive ways Senate could change Biden's spending plan Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by Boeing — US mulls Afghan evacuees' future Senators look to defense bill to move cybersecurity measures MORE (D-Mich.), who is set to be the committee’s chair once the parties finalize a power-sharing agreement.

The Senate has already confirmed Director of National Intelligence Avril HainesAvril HainesOvernight Defense & National Security — Russian military moves cause for concern New Pentagon group to investigate unidentified aerial phenomena This Thanksgiving, skip the political food fights and talk UFOs instead MORE and Defense Secretary Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinOvernight Defense & National Security — US, Iran return to negotiating table Four-star general to lead Pentagon investigation into Syria airstrike that killed dozens Pentagon rejects Oklahoma's request to exempt Guard from vaccine mandate MORE, and the body is expected to confirm Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenEcuador's security crisis warrants US assistance At least 20 Sudan troops dead after clash on Ethiopia border Germany calls on Congress not to sanction Nord Stream 2 pipeline: report MORE as secretary of State on Tuesday. 

Republicans have opposed Mayorkas's nomination over a range of issues, with Hawley complaining he would not support hard-line immigration efforts like the border wall and other Republicans homing in on an inspector general report that found Mayorkas intervened on some immigration cases while head of Citizenship and Immigration Services.

The 2015 report found that Mayorkas got involved in immigration cases with ties to Democrats seeking to use the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Visa Program, which gives visas to those expected to make major investments in the U.S.

Mayorkas, who said he intervened to fix a broken system on behalf of requests from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, credited the report with helping to establish better guardrails for involvement in such cases.

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“I did, in fact, learn, senator, how to better guard against a perception, and I agree with you, 100 percent that it is our obligation to guard against that perception, so that there is trust and confidence in the decisionmaking of government leaders,” he said in his initial hearing in front of the committee the day before Biden was inaugurated.

Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonWisconsin senators ask outsiders not to exploit parade attack 'for their own political purposes' It's time to bury ZombieCare once and for all Marjorie Taylor Greene introduces bill to award Congressional Gold Medal to Rittenhouse MORE (R-Wis.) said he could not support Mayorkas given his work on cases where there was a political connection.

“My preference would have been not to air this dirty laundry publicly. I would have hoped that President BidenJoe BidenDearborn office of Rep. Debbie Dingell vandalized Pfizer to apply for COVID-19 booster approval for 16- and 17-year-olds: report Coronavirus variant raises fresh concerns for economy MORE would have had a better sense than to nominate and carry forward a nomination where you had real serious issues here that simply can't be ignored,” he said. 

Even with concerns over the inspector general report, Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanBipartisan success in the Senate signals room for more compromise Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by Boeing — US mulls Afghan evacuees' future Hillicon Valley — Presented by Ericsson — DOJ unveils new election hacking charges MORE (R-Ohio) chose to back Mayorkas's nomination citing the urgency of getting the position filled.

“I do so with a sense of concern, and also a commitment that I'm going to hold him accountable, and I think we all should for these integrity lapses,” Portman said of the report.

“I also think that he's going to be confirmed no matter what we do here this morning. It won't happen as quickly. But, in talking to my Democratic colleagues — and I've talked to a lot of them about Mayorkas — they're going to support him. ... So he's going to be confirmed. And the question is how quickly does he get in place.”

Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyNo deal in sight as Congress nears debt limit deadline GOP holds on Biden nominees set back gains for women in top positions This Thanksgiving, skip the political food fights and talk UFOs instead MORE (R-Utah) joined Portman in backing Mayorka’s advancement, saying he was assured by the former DHS deputy that he would respond differently in the future.

“He lost credibility as a result of that. And [said] that it was an error,” Romney said.

“People who identify those errors, recognize them and are willing to take a different course in the future, are people who I generally will support.” 

Hawley’s hold means Mayorkas will need to pass a 50-vote threshold cloture vote before advancing, a tactic that sucks up floor time before a vote on his nomination can proceed.

Cornyn’s letter asks both Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinProgressive groups urge Feinstein to back filibuster carve out for voting rights or resign Senators call for Smithsonian Latino, women's museums to be built on National Mall Five faces from the media who became political candidates MORE (D-Calif.), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Senate Majority Whip Dick DurbinDick DurbinGraham emerges as go-to ally for Biden's judicial picks 91 House Dems call on Senate to expand immigration protections in Biden spending bill Bipartisan senators press FBI, inspector general for changes following Nassar case MORE (D-Ill.) to hold an additional hearing for Mayorkas before he reaches the Senate floor. 

“When he announced his nomination of Mr. Mayorkas, President Biden stated that he would play a ‘critical role in fixing our broken immigration system.’ And in his testimony before the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Mr. Mayorkas spoke about the administration’s immigration priorities at length, addressing issues such as asylum, apprehensions along the southern border, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, and the EB-5 investor visa program,” Cornyn wrote in a letter also sign by Sens. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisOvernight Defense & National Security — A new plan to treat Marines 'like human beings' Republicans press Milley over perceived progressive military agenda Gun control group alleges campaign finance violations in lawsuit against NRA MORE (R-N.C.), Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeNo deal in sight as Congress nears debt limit deadline Republicans struggle to save funding for Trump's border wall The congressional debate over antitrust: It's about time MORE (R-Utah), Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzOvernight Defense & National Security — US, Iran return to negotiating table Senate GOP blocks defense bill, throwing it into limbo On The Money — Biden stresses calm amid omicron fears MORE (R-Texas), Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstBiden picks former Senate candidate Theresa Greenfield to Iowa's USDA post Biden has just 33 percent approval rating in Iowa poll Overnight Defense & National Security — A new plan to treat Marines 'like human beings' MORE (R-Iowa), Hawley, Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnChina draws scrutiny over case of tennis star Peng Shuai Sunday shows preview: Boosters open to all US adults; House Dems pass spending plan on to Senate Photos of the Week: President Biden, Kenosha protests and a pardon for Peanut Butter MORE (R-Tenn.) and Ben SasseBen SasseThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by ExxonMobil - House to vote on Biden social spending bill after McCarthy delay CBO releases cost estimate of Biden plan Real conservatives must make a choice MORE (R-Neb.).

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“The Committee on the Judiciary has jurisdiction over matters relating to immigration and nationality under Senate Rule XXV. For this reason, all members of the committee should have the opportunity to hear from Mr. Mayorkas directly, and to publicly discuss with him his plans with respect to the Department’s immigration components and functions.”

Durbin didn’t completely rule out a second hearing but scorned the delays.

“I don't see why that’s necessary,” Durbin told reporters. “As I just said on the floor, this is indefensible that we are withholding leadership of the Department of Homeland Security. ... This has run way past review of this man’s qualifications. ... I don't want to rule anything out to get the job done but I tell you it is an indication, I think, of mindless partisanship.”    

Several lawmakers brought up the recent SolarWinds attack as part of their reasoning for advancing Mayorkas. 

“We've got the massive cybersecurity attack, that we aren't talking about much because it seems like everything else has become more important, but that probably the most significant national security threat we've had in this country in years,” Portman said.

Jordain Carney contributed to this report which was updated at 12:51 p.m.