National Security

Senate confirms Biden’s DHS pick after GOP delay

The Senate on Tuesday voted to confirm Alejandro Mayorkas after a Republican effort stalled confirmation of President Biden’s pick to lead the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Mayorkas was one of the first of President Biden’s Cabinet nominees to gather significant pushback from Senate Republicans.

He was confirmed by a 56-43 vote.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) lead an effort to have Mayorkas go through a second confirmation hearing before the Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) putting a hold on him after he appeared before the Homeland Security Committee.

Hawley, a possible 2024 GOP presidential candidate who objected to the Electoral College results in Pennsylvania last month, objected to Mayorkas over his statement that he would support Biden’s efforts to stall construction of the border wall that was President Trump’s signature issue. 

Mayorkas also said he would advocate for Biden’s immigration package, which would provide an eight-year path to citizenship for some 11 million undocumented people.

Hawley said Mayorkas “has not adequately explained how he will enforce federal law and secure the southern border.” 

Hawley’s decision to push back a vote on Mayorkas was controversial, angering not just Democrats but former DHS secretaries on both sides of the aisle who saw swift confirmation as critical while the U.S. is confronting several emergencies. 

“The tradition has been, understandably, that national security positions within the incoming administration are confirmed on the day of the Inauguration,” former George W. Bush DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff said of Republican opposition.

Republicans also questioned a 2015 inspector general report that found 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.

The episode lost him the backing of Sens. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) — who listed it among “real serious issues here that simply can’t be ignored” — and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who rejected Mayorkas’s comparison that it was similar to his work assisting in international adoption cases.

Born in Cuba to a mother who fled the Holocaust, Mayorkas is the first Latino and first immigrant to lead the agency. He joins the Biden administration after serving under President Obama, first as director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and then as deputy director of DHS. 

The combination of Mayorkas’s professional background and personal story make him an ideal pick for some Democrats who say he will represent a total turnaround from the department’s role under the Trump administration. 

“He will work to keep our nation safe and secure while ensuring that we treat all human beings with dignity,” Sen. Jackie Rosen (D-Nev.) said during the first round of debate on Mayorkas.

“Under the last administration we saw unimaginable cruelty: family members separated from each other, children taken from their mother’s arms. We saw a total disregard of the struggles of refugees facing persecution in their home countries and making the heartbreaking choice to leave for the United States. … I know that under the leadership of Secretary Mayorkas, our Department of Homeland Security will strive to uphold the values of our nation,” she said, noting his commitment to secure status for “Dreamers” and others with temporary immigration status while also working on Biden’s immigration package.

With his confirmation he will also lead a family reunification task force designed by Biden to connect 545 children with their parents after being separated at the border by the Trump administration.

Mayorkas takes the reins of the agency after it was led by six different officials in four years under the Trump administration. 

He indicated he sees a role for the department far beyond the immigration aspects focused on by both parties.

“The Department of Homeland Security bears an extraordinary weight on behalf of the American people — the weight of grave challenges, seen and unseen. Cyberattacks that undermine our security and the integrity of our information systems. The threat of both foreign and domestic terrorism. Pandemics that throw every part of American life off of its axis. And extreme weather events that threaten lives and livelihoods,” he said when testifying before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

Tags Alejandro Mayorkas Biden transition Border wall Chuck Grassley Department of Homeland Security DHS Donald Trump Immigration John Cornyn Josh Hawley Ron Johnson

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