Vulnerable Senate Democrats in vice on Mayorkas impeachment vote

April 10, 2024

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and other vulnerable Senate Democrats are facing strong political blowback on a vote that will now happen next week to dismiss impeachment charges against Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

Republicans have already forced Democrats to take several tough votes on immigration and border security and are hitting them hard with attack ads at home as they lean into the issue ahead of November.

The tactics appear to be taking a toll: Tester said Tuesday that he needs to carefully review the charges against Mayorkas, breaking with other Democrats who are dismissing them outright as a political stunt.

“I’ve got to review my memory to see what the House did. Now, if the House didn’t do something politically, which would be kind of a shock to me, then we’ve got to look at it seriously,” Tester said.

“I got to look at the papers,” he said, referring to the charges laid out in the articles of impeachment that narrowly passed the House in mid-February. “In the end, I just want to read the papers, refamiliarize [myself] with what the House did … and then we’ll make a determination what we do.”

Tester told Politico in February that he would support a motion to dismiss impeachment charges against Mayorkas, which drew an attack from the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) on Tuesday.

Maggie Abboud, an NRSC spokeswoman, said Tester “is finally starting to realize that being a loyal soldier for Joe Biden’s agenda is not popular in Montana.”

Tester says he’s being barraged with misleading attack ads hitting him on border security. He noted that Senate Republicans voted overwhelmingly to defeat a bipartisan border security deal that had the endorsement of the National Border Patrol Council.

“I think Congress has done a bad job on the border,” he said. “We had a chance to fix the border a month ago, and Republicans were given the instruction that they want this for a campaign issue, and they’re using it as a campaign issue. But we could have fixed it.”

Other Democrats in Republican-leaning or swing states are hedging their answers or not saying how they’ll vote, including Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) and Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.).

Brown, one of the Senate’s most vulnerable incumbents, said he would “likely” vote to table the impeachment charges.

“It’s just a distraction. We ought to be doing the border security bill, we had a bipartisan bill to move forward. We ought to be doing rail safety. There’s a lot of things we ought to be doing instead of playing politics like this,” he added.

Warnock, who faced a competitive reelection race last cycle, said he won’t comment before the charges are formally presented.

“I am going to handle my responsibility as a potential juror, so I don’t want to prejudice what I may need to say later,” he said. “We will see.”

Cortez Masto said she hasn’t made any decision on how she will vote.

The original plan was to vote on a motion to table the two articles of impeachment against Mayorkas on Thursday afternoon, right before senators are scheduled to fly back to their home states for the weekend.

But Tuesday, Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) agreed to hold the articles of impeachment in the House until early next week to put more scrutiny on vulnerable Senate Democrats.

Senate conservatives want to force Tester, Brown, and Sens. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), who all face competitive reelection races, to stick around Washington for a few days next week to defend votes against a Mayorkas trial.

“I think there are a lot of Democrats who really want to avoid the vote. I don’t blame them. I mean it is the No. 1 issue on the minds of Americans, and this bears directly on the debacle at the southern border, which is hard to defend. I don’t know how any Democrat can defend it,” Senate Republican Whip John Thune (S.D.) said.

He said a Senate impeachment trial would give a chance for senators to hold the administration accountable for the border.

“You’re talking about the person, the people, who are directly responsible for it, and that’s the president and Secretary Mayorkas,” Thune said.

Senate conservatives say Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) wants to table the articles of impeachment quickly to protect vulnerable Democrats from having to sit through a lengthy presentation of the charges against Mayorkas on the Senate floor.

“Why is Schumer wanting to do this? Because the press he believes will let him get away with it and every Democrat,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) told reporters at a Tuesday afternoon press conference.

“How many of you have asked Jon Tester in Montana: ‘Why are you refusing to comply with you constitutional duty [to hold a trial]?’ How many of you have asked Sherrod Brown or Jacky Rosen or Tammy Baldwin? They’re all on the ballot. That’s who Chuck Schumer is trying to protect from having to hear the evidence and fulfill a constitutional responsibility,” Cruz argued.

Schumer earlier in the day dismissed a question about whether a vote to table impeachment and avoid a trial would hurt vulnerable Democrats ahead of Election Day.

“Look, we’re going to try and resolve this issue as quickly as possible. Impeachment should never be used to settle policy disagreements,” he said.

Senate Democratic aides say they expect the articles to be dismissed soon after they come to the Senate. If they arrive by Monday, aides predicted they will be tabled the following day.

“We’re ready to go whenever they are. We are sticking with our plan. We’re going to move this as expeditiously as possible,” Schumer said when he learned that the Speaker would hold the impeachment documents in the House until next week.