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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 MayorkasMSNBC's Jacob Soboroff doesn't let falling equipment stop his report Republicans call for hearing on Biden's handling of border surge Pavlich: Mayorkas' reckless invitation ensures border crisis is about to explode MOREthe former deputy secretary of DHS under the Obama administration.

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynOvernight Defense: Capitol Police may ask National Guard to stay | Biden's Pentagon policy nominee faces criticism | Naval Academy midshipmen moved to hotels Senators introduce bill creating technology partnerships to compete with China Republicans blast Pentagon policy nominee over tweets, Iran nuclear deal 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 HawleyCrenshaw pours cold water on 2024 White House bid: 'Something will emerge' Garland's AG nomination delayed by GOP roadblocks The Memo: Is Trump mounting a comeback — or finally fading? 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 PetersAlarming threat prompts early exit, underscoring security fears Five takeaways from dramatic Capitol security hearing Troops defending Capitol sickened by undercooked meat: report 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 HainesThe intelligence community must evolve with the information age Duckworth calls for Russian bounties intelligence to be declassified Intelligence official says Khashoggi report 'obviously' will challenge Saudi relationship MORE and Defense Secretary Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinOvernight Defense: Capitol Police may ask National Guard to stay | Biden's Pentagon policy nominee faces criticism | Naval Academy midshipmen moved to hotels Biden called off second military target in Syria minutes before strike: report Republicans blast Pentagon policy nominee over tweets, Iran nuclear deal MORE, and the body is expected to confirm Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenSenators introduce bill creating technology partnerships to compete with China Overnight Health Care: Experts warn US risks delaying 'normal' summer | Alabama GOP governor extends mask mandate | Senate votes to take up relief bill Republicans demand arms embargo on Iran after militia strikes in Iraq 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 JohnsonRon Johnson grinds Senate to halt, irritating many On The Money: Senate votes to take up COVID-19 relief bill | Stocks sink after Powell fails to appease jittery traders | February jobs report to provide first measure of Biden economy Senate relief package earmarks B for global coronavirus response 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 BidenTrump State Department appointee arrested in connection with Capitol riot FireEye finds evidence Chinese hackers exploited Microsoft email app flaw since January Biden officials to travel to border amid influx of young migrants 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 PortmanMandel gets Club for Growth nod in Ohio Senate primary Rick Scott caught in middle of opposing GOP factions Five takeaways from dramatic Capitol security hearing 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 RomneyRon Johnson grinds Senate to halt, irritating many Romney's TRUST Act is a Trojan Horse to cut seniors' benefits Republicans, please save your party 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 FeinsteinDemocrats worry Senate will be graveyard for Biden agenda Pro-Choice Caucus asks Biden to remove abortion fund restrictions from 2022 budget China has already infiltrated America's institutions MORE (D-Calif.), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Senate Majority Whip Dick DurbinDick DurbinWhat's worse, violence on the left or the right? It's a dangerous question Garland's AG nomination delayed by GOP roadblocks National Sheriffs' Association backs Biden pick for key DOJ role 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 TillisMcConnell backs Garland for attorney general GOP senators demand probe into Cuomo's handling of nursing home deaths CNN anchor confronts GOP chairman over senator's vote to convict Trump MORE (R-N.C.), Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeGarland's AG nomination delayed by GOP roadblocks Biden reignites war powers fight with Syria strike Bipartisan group of senators introduces bill to rein in Biden's war powers MORE (R-Utah), Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzCrenshaw pours cold water on 2024 White House bid: 'Something will emerge' Garland's AG nomination delayed by GOP roadblocks The Hill's 12:30 Report: Washington on high alert as QAnon theory marks March 4 MORE (R-Texas), Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstRepublicans demand arms embargo on Iran after militia strikes in Iraq Republicans blast Pentagon policy nominee over tweets, Iran nuclear deal Democrats cut deals to bolster support for relief bill MORE (R-Iowa), Hawley, Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnRepublicans blast Pentagon policy nominee over tweets, Iran nuclear deal White House defends Biden's 'Neanderthal thinking' remark on masks Marsha Blackburn: Biden needs to 'rethink' comments about 'resilient' and 'resourceful' Neanderthals MORE (R-Tenn.) and Ben SasseBen SasseSenators introduce bill creating technology partnerships to compete with China Garland's AG nomination delayed by GOP roadblocks Republicans, please save your party 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.